Los Altos School District trustees and officials joined representatives from the Los Altos Teachers Association for a two-day training session this month to learn more about a different way to negotiate: interest-based bargaining.
Traditionally the district has used a negotiating model where proposals and counter-proposals bounce back and forth between the two parties. Interest-based bargaining frames negotiation as joint problem-solving to resolve each party’s underlying issues, needs and concerns. The process works by encouraging the parties to focus on interests, not positions, and to use communication and innovative thinking to identify superior solutions.
“The theory behind it is – it is supposed to be a more collaborative process,” said Trustee Doug Smith. “The workshop was making sure we all understood the process and how interest-based bargaining works.”
This is an important year for negotiations between the district and its teachers. The teachers’ three-year contract expires at the end of this school year, so the district and the teachers association will have to draft a new agreement.
Smith said neither the district nor the teachers association have committed to using interest-based bargaining but agree they want to find a better way to negotiate.
The district and the teachers association jointly sponsored the two-day training session, led by a California Teachers Association representative and a lawyer from the school district.
Whether the process would make negotiations more transparent for the public remains to be seen. District officials said recently they were working with their negotiating partners to communicate the status of the negotiations to the public monthly.
“If (the process) is less acrimonious, we are more likely to share what we are talking about,” Smith said. “In the spirit of cooperation, I could envision we could talk more openly about the process itself.”
Formal negotiations are scheduled to begin between the district and the Los Altos Teachers Association in January.