The atmosphere was low-key at a public comment meeting about a collective bargaining agreement between Columbia Public Schools and a teachers union.
But tensions about the pros and cons of collective bargaining, with the Columbia Missouri National Education Association as teachers’ exclusive representative, were still evident.
Only two members of the public, both part of a professional organization called the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association, spoke at the meeting.
In her comment, CMSTA president Jessica Tierney objected to the provision that releases only the CMNEA president from teaching duties to attend board meetings.
“I understand that we are battling the exclusive representative terms; however, for equity purposes, CMSTA should be provided the same right,” Tierney said.
She also advocated a return to a “meet and confer” method, rather than collective bargaining.
Susie Adams, past MSTA president, said the process of reaching the tentative agreement had “pushed a wedge between teachers, administrators and the Board of Education.”
She blamed exclusive representation for some of the division.
“The term ‘exclusive’ goes against everything that we work (for) as educators” and means that someone’s voice is left out of the agreement, she said.
CMNEA president Kathy Steinhoff said the union plans to vote electronically on the agreement Thursday and Friday, with a possible extension to Monday if a majority of members have not yet approved it. If the union ratifies the agreement, the school board will consider ratification at its meeting next Thursday.
CMNEA and the district agreed to the pay raises and working conditions described in the agreement during their negotiations this spring. While the two groups didn’t ratify an agreement then, the board voted to move forward with the changes and included them in teacher contracts and official policy.
As part of the agreement, district employees received an average raise of just over 5% this year because of a newly streamlined salary schedule.
The agreement also includes better compensation for unused sick days and standards for how much planning time teachers are allowed.
In her report for CMNEA at the school board meeting Monday, Steinhoff said CPS base teacher salaries rank third in mid-Missouri and 18th among the largest 20 districts statewide at $37,500.
Missouri ranks 49th in teacher pay, Steinhoff said. She urged the board to come up with a five-year plan to increase salaries.
A disagreement over whether CMNEA needed to be recertified under a 2018 state law delayed this year’s agreement. The law is currently held up in a court battle. An injunction from a St. Louis County judge halted its enforcement March 8, making recertification impossible.
Most changes to the sections of the agreement that deal with recognition, negotiation procedures and the district’s rights are required by the 2018 state law.
A note after each of those additions states it will be removed if the law is repealed or found invalid. They include a provision for the district to modify the economic terms of an agreement without the union’s permission in case of a budget shortfall and a requirement that teachers who participate in strikes be fired.
The agreement would expire June 30, 2020.