Schools

Teachers’ union challenges MVLA calendar, alleges lack of trust

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Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
Students arrive at Los Altos High School, where first period begins at 8:10 a.m. most days. The district plans to push start times back, but the union has objected to a calendar the board of trustees passed Jan. 13.

Just a few months ago, the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District looked on track to adopt a new calendar and bell schedule in time to implement later school start times in the fall. Now the future of those negotiations is uncertain.

David Campbell, president of the teachers’ union (formally the District Teachers’ Association) is raising objections to a calendar for next school year that the board of trustees passed unanimously Jan. 13, in particular noting that the union wasn’t consulted ahead of time.

“I was absolutely stunned and offended,” Campbell said. “Now I don’t know where the relationship is with the board, because they obviously don’t trust us.”

For his part, MVLA board of trustees president Sanjay Dave said negotiations are ongoing and that the district wants to work with the union to reach an agreement.

“The board is not upset,” Dave said. “As far as the board is concerned, we look at this as we’re in negotiations.”

Dave declined to go into specifics about the details of the negotiations, saying that the board views them as confidential discussions.

The district has been working in earnest since last fall to create a new bell schedule that would push back start times, giving students more time to sleep in the morning. A new state law requires that by the 2022-2023 school year, high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

However, MVLA officials want to go beyond start times and consider other aspects of the bell schedule, including adding more tutorial periods and block days, where periods are approximately double the length but meet only every other day.

Changing the bell schedule is intertwined with the school calendar, because the state has requirements for the number of instructional minutes high schools must provide each year. If the school day is shorter, there may need to be more days in the school year.

Campbell said unless the district is willing to negotiate the calendar in good faith, the union won’t negotiate the bell schedule, or any other topic.

“If they’re going to handcuff us into taking a calendar, we’re going to handcuff them into taking a schedule,” Campbell said.

According to Dave, the board’s hope is for the calendar it passed last week to be final, however he said it could be altered.

“All things could change, absolutely,” Dave said. “We can always go back and say we’re going to rescind this and propose a new one. Yes, that can happen.”

Calendar controversy

Since the fall, negotiating teams from the union and district have been meeting to discuss changes to the bell schedule and calendar. The union, in concert with the district’s team, developed a bell schedule and calendar proposal.

The calendar the board passed last week is largely the same, except it moves the end of the school year earlier. According to Campbell, he didn’t know the board had passed the edited calendar until the next morning, when representatives from the district and union held a prescheduled negotiating session.

“For the first time, the board passed a calendar that we hadn’t approved,” he said. “It was so offensive that they would go and do an end-around on the association like they did.”

Typically, Campbell said the union’s representative council sends a calendar proposal to the board, which then votes on it.

The agenda for the board’s Jan. 13 meeting included “2020-2021 Academic Calendar,” but no calendar was attached. Instead, copies were distributed at the meeting. The same agenda item also appeared on the calendar for the board’s Dec. 16 meeting, but no action was taken.

Superintendent Nellie Meyer said the board passed the calendar last week separately from the bell schedule in part so that families and staff could begin making scheduling plans based on when school will be in session.

“One of the reasons is that we wanted to inform community and staff as soon as possible, so they could plan their lives around when school starts and when breaks are occurring,” Meyer said. “That was one big reason: There was a large demand from the community to get those times.”

The calendar passed by the board calls for school to start Aug. 12, a week earlier than the current school year, and gives students and staff the full week of Thanksgiving off, rather than only three days, as well as an additional two days in October after the first quarter ends.

All of those changes are in line with the proposal created by the union and negotiating team, which Campbell shared with the Town Crier. The difference is the original proposal called for school to end June 9, with seniors graduating June 4. The calendar the board passed has school ending for all students June 4.

Dave said pushing the end of the school year out shortens summer vacation, which kids need to decompress. The second semester is also already longer than the first and adding more days in June makes the problem worse, he added. Advanced Placement exams are also finished by mid-May.

“Additional schooling after that, it’s kind of pointless,” Dave said. “I’d rather have those days at the beginning of the calendar year, rather than at the end.”

The calendar the board passed doesn’t include all of the six staff workdays that teachers have historically received. Instead, it includes three full days, plus another two half-days. Campbell said the half-days don’t count toward the six days, because staff is still working with students.

“It seems like they’re forcing us to take (the other) days during our summer vacation or during some kind of a break or vacation during the school year,” he said. “And that doesn’t seem very fair to us.”

Dave said the calendar passed by the district last week was only a student academic calendar, and therefore didn’t have all the staff workdays accounted for. He said negotiations over adding teacher workdays are ongoing.

The original proposal and the one the board passed both had the same number of workdays.

According to Campbell, during negotiations last fall, the district didn’t want to extend the year beyond 186 staff days, 180 of which the state requires be student contact days. To meet state instructional minutes requirements and prevent school from letting out too late in the afternoon, the union agreed to reduce the number of staff days, so there could be 183 student days, Campbell said.

“We never felt that it was a good idea to remove professional development days,” he said, but added that the union was trying to work with the district and reach a mutually agreeable calendar.

By removing the three days in June, the board reduced back down to 180 student days and didn’t increase the number of staff workdays.

The board’s goal is to match the state requirement of 180 instructional days, as the district has in past years, Dave said, assuming the schedule can include the required number of instructional minutes.

“If there’s any noticeable benefit to increasing the number of days, we could look at it,” Dave said. “I don’t think anybody is opposed to increasing the number of days beyond 180. But what is the benefit of doing that? There has to be a significant benefit.”

Schedule proposals

The day after the school board passed the calendar, district and union representatives met for a prescheduled negotiating session. According to Campbell, the district came with two potential bell schedules.

“Those two proposals that we received in negotiations were so ridiculous that there’s no way they were created by an educator,” he said.

Throughout the process, Campbell said he has had the “utmost” respect for and trust in both the superintendent and the district’s negotiating team. He said he feels the union has an “ally in student success” in the superintendent and that the union was working “hand-in-hand” with the district negotiating team. Instead, he directed his objections to the board.

“Obviously these proposals were put together by people who have never taught in a classroom, who have never worked in this district (and) don’t know our students,” he said.

According to Campbell, the board first proposed two bell schedules before winter break. He said he conveyed through the superintendent that they wouldn’t work and canceled a Jan. 6 negotiating session because he felt the schedules showed the board didn’t understand the union’s interests.

When the parties met Jan. 14, Campbell said the district came back with only slightly changed versions of the two options. He sent the Town Crier copies of the two bell schedule options he said the district originally proposed.

In Option A, periods two through six meet Mondays. Tuesdays and Thursdays are odd-period block days. Wednesdays and Fridays are even-period block days, plus period one on Wednesday and period seven on Friday meet at the end of the day. Campbell called the schedule “completely disjointed.”

Option B has all periods meeting Mondays, with even-period block days on Tuesdays and Thursdays and odd-period block days Wednesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays, lunch starts around 11 a.m. and there is a tutorial period directly beforehand.

Campbell said he doesn’t believe the second option would meet state instructional minutes requirements, because there is a tutorial period right before lunch and school district policy allows students to leave campus during lunch. That, according to Campbell, would mean the tutorial period doesn’t count toward the state minutes requirement.

Dave declined to comment on the specific proposals, citing the confidentiality of the negotiation process. However, he said there are other possible schedules under discussion, beyond those Campbell shared.

“There are other versions that are out there,” Dave said. “Yes, these are some that have been discussed, but there are others out there as well.”

Dave said the board put forward its own bell schedule options after the proposal the union created with the district’s negotiating team didn’t meet state requirements. That’s because seniors would have graduated early, on June 4, with the rest of school running through June 9.

Campbell said this could have been fixed in a number of ways, including by pushing out the seniors’ graduation date.

Dave said he appreciated all the work that went into the proposal and knows it wasn’t an easy task to create, but said there were other items the board felt were important, such as starting school at 8:45 a.m.

Under the original proposal, school would start at 8:30 a.m. two days a week and 8:45 a.m. the other three. The board’s options have school starting at 8:45 a.m. each day. Dave said this is aimed at helping kids get enough sleep. He stressed that the board’s schedules are just options, that nothing is set in stone and that he wants feedback on them from teachers.

“That’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Dave said. “They can give us their input; let’s talk about it. That’s what the whole negotiation is about.”

However, Campbell said the heart of the problem is that the district passed a calendar the union hadn’t passed.

Campbell said the district has consulted with the legal department of the California Teachers Association, which informed the union it may have grounds to file an unfair labor practices complaint on multiple fronts. An unfair labor practices charge would be filed with California’s Public Employment Relations Board.

Campbell said the union also could file a class-action grievance or invoke the impasse procedures in its contract. However, Campbell said he wants to avoid escalating it to that level.

“I really don’t want to,” he said. “I have zero interest in tangling up not just district funds, but district time and energy, when we could be doing a better job of just working toward a better future for our students in the district.”

Campbell said any action the union takes depends on whether the district is willing to negotiate about the calendar it passed.

Another negotiating session is scheduled Feb. 4.

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