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A Better Way to Bargain: A Message from Superintendent Dr. Glass

A Better Way to Bargain: A Message from Superintendent Dr. Glass
Posted on 02/22/2019
Superintendent & Chief Learner Dr. Jason GlassThese past few weeks, the eyes of the nation turned to our neighbor, Denver Public Schools, as district leadership and the teachers’ union failed to come to agreement on a new contract, leading to a teacher strike in the 92,000-student district. Fortunately for everyone involved, the parties were able to come to a resolution after just a few days.

Since that time, I have fielded a number of questions about the climate of labor relations in Jeffco Public Schools and (more pointedly) if I expected such an action to take place in our community.

Jeffco has two “unions” that we work with. The Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) represents teachers and other certified staff in the district. The Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association (JESPA) represents our support staff and hourly employees such as maintenance and custodial, cafeteria, transportation, health providers and clerical positions. We also have a professional association representing administrators in the district, the Jefferson County Administrators Association (JCAA). We negotiate (or bargain) with JCEA and JESPA, but JCAA is not a bargaining organization. All of these organizations are membership based and employees have the option to join.

I can honestly say that I have positive and collaborative relationships with all three of our associations and their leadership. I consider their problems my problems, and vice versa. We call on each other frequently to share ideas, solve problems, and think together. I respect them deeply, and believe that respect extends both ways. Our relationships are strong and in a good space ... and this is not accidental. We have all invested time and energy in supporting each other, and have been there for each other when there was a need. All three organizations worked tirelessly during the 2018 election cycle to generate support with Jeffco voters for 5A and 5B to successfully pass these important ballot questions.

This year in our negotiations with JCEA, we are trying a different approach for Jeffco called “Interest-Based Bargaining,” which is intended as a more creative, solutions-oriented, and collaborative approach to negotiations than traditional bargaining.

Traditional bargaining operates by both sides starting with typically “pie in the sky” proposals. Over the course of bargaining, the two teams meet together to slide their demands back and forth across the table, publicly criticize and ridicule each other, and the experience is generally acrimonious on both sides. While it is possible to come to an agreement in traditional bargaining, it is usually at the expense of creative ideas, relationships, and trust. To return to a harmonious environment after such an experience is challenging for the organization.

By contrast, Interest-Based Bargaining (IBB) works to find win/win solutions that meet the goals (or interests) of both sides. In this process, the teams work collaboratively, are open and respectful in exploring different options, and use reason (rather than pressure or tricks) to determine the best outcomes. Because solutions are from a win/win frame, the deals that result from Interest-Based Bargaining tend to be more stable and they build positive and trusting relationships between the teams.

Jeffco is just at the beginning of this shift in our bargaining approach, and it has resulted in a recent agreement with JCEA to allocate 5A funds for employees. A similar process will occur with JESPA and then the proposals will be presented to the Board of Education for approval. The JCEA negotiations meetings are available to watch on LiveStream. I found them to be thoughtful, respectful, and solutions-oriented. The people at the table laughed together, seemed to genuinely care for each other, and were working on common goals with a shared love of our schools, students and community.

Shifting to IBB requires a change in mindset to build and solidify trusting collaborative relationships. Old habits die hard – and there is a history of some strife and division when it came to labor relations in Jeffco. While I know we are making progress, we still see some behaviors associated with traditional bargaining (digging into positions, dismissing the views of the other side, and presenting sides as enemies or villains). I remain optimistic that our “better angels” will prevail and we can make a breakthrough in this community by working together to solve our collective challenges.

I came to Jeffco in 2017 knowing this school district was arguably the nation’s worst example of partisan politics and division in education. However, I believed that Jeffco also represented the nation’s best hope to show that a community can put aside its differences and work together on behalf of its children.

I still believe these things - even more today. I also believe that our healing and reconciliation are already upon us.

Jeffco students, parents, families, staff, and community members may engage with Dr. Glass via Facebook, Twitter @COJasonGlass, and through his blog, advancejeffco.blog.
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