Meet and Consult, Part II

You may remember the following scenario in relation to the question of “What is Meet and Consult”?

A newly-hired elementary school (300 kids, 15 classroom teachers and 5 others) principal wants to institute a different math/science curriculum.  She talks it over with the superintendent who says, “Makes sense to me; go ahead and take a look at options.” Over coffee a few days later, she mentions her idea to two teachers.  She then orders a complete set of new textbooks with related audiovisuals, computer programs and more for all the classrooms based on her experiences with it at her previous school.  The materials arrive in early June and she proudly announces at the final staff meeting of the year, “You’re going to love this system; we’ll all need to get on board with the new curriculum next year.  It will take some time to get used to it, but we’ll work together to iron out any bugs.”

I also posted the M&C requirements as laid out in the 1982 MLRB case, Southern Aroostook:

The purpose of the meet and consult obligation is to ensure that school committees consider their employees’ comments and concerns before implementing or changing educational policy.  The duty to meet and consult thus is a mechanism  for insuring employee input in non-negotiable policy areas, designed to further the Act’s purpose of improving the relationship between school committees and their employees.  Several elements are necessary to carry out the purpose of the meet and consult obligation:

1.  Notice that a change in educational policy is planned must be given to the bargaining agent, so that it can timely invoke the meet and consult process if employees wish to comment on the changes;

2.  Pertinent information about the planned change must be provided so that the bargaining agent and employees can understand the change and make constructive comments about it.

3.   Actual meeting and consulting at reasonable times and places about the planned change must occur upon receipt of a ten day notice or other request to meet and consult by the bargaining agent.  A school committee is obligated to come to meet and consult sessions with an open mind, to discuss the planned change openly and honestly, and to listen to the employees’ suggestions and concerns.

4.  Mature consideration must be given to the employees’ input before the change is implemented, and if any of the employees’ comments or concerns are meritorious, the school committee must decide in good faith whether they can be accommodated.

So, let’s think about the scenario and run it through the requirements:

First, is the matter one of “educational policy”? Yes.  Curriculum is clearly a matter for the school committee/board; it is not directly negotiable.

SIDEBAR: how did the principal manage to make a change in a matter of educational policy without the board/committee being involved? It happens all the time. School boards/committees typically meet monthly, sometimes biweekly, for about 2-3 hours.  They leave most day-to-day issues to the superintendent and administrative staff.  After a while, no one blinks an eye when new routines are implemented, or textbooks bought, or schedules changed without the school board/committee having any idea.

Back to the Southern Aroostook requirements:

1a. Notice (by the school committee) that a change in educational policy is planned must be given to the bargaining agent:

  1. Nope.
  2. Even if the Association President had been one of the two teachers, a mention over coffee is hardly “notice” in the formal collective bargaining sense of the word.

1b. The bargaining agent [must have time to] invoke the meet and consult process if employees wish to comment on the changes.

  1. Again, no. The bargaining agent (Association) didn’t know, so they couldn’t do anything.
  2. Even if they had figured it out, they can’t meet and consult with the Principal (or even the superintendent), only the school board/committee.
  3. And, even if they had figured it out and asked to meet and consult with the school board/committee, the response would most likely have been, “What the heck are you talking about?” or a variation thereof.

I’m sure you get my drift – the M&C process doesn’t work with a relatively informal change, no matter how important – so let’s not go any further into the requirements as they apply to this scenario, but rather think about what might have happened had this been a Committee/Board level policy.

The first thing to remember is that the Association and the Board/Committee would not have been negotiating the IMPACT of the policy change on the teachers; that’s another post entirely.  They would have been talking about whether or not:

  • the policy made sense in this school
  • it was good for students
  • it would help increase student learning
  • it would benefit all students equally
  • and other considerations of this sort

Had the bargaining agent (Association) had the opportunity to talk with teachers, they might have found that some teachers might have:

  • had experience (good or bad) with the proposed system
  • had experience (good or bad) with other curriculum systems
  • preferred to do more research before making a decision
  • thought the current system was working just fine
  • been worried that the proposed system would be too difficult for their special education students, or not challenging enough for the gifted ones.

The Association could then have met with the school committee/board and raised these points.  They might even have proposed an alternative which the school committee/board could have adopted in place of the principal’s plan.

It’s those sorts of issues that the MLRB had in mind when it said the purpose of the meet and consult process was … improving the relationship between school committees and their employees.

So, next time, we’ll go back to the teacher evaluation bill (LD 391) and think about the meet and consult process in that context.

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Filed under Collective Bargaining, Education in Maine

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