The Charlottesville School Board wants to pass a resolution that would allow school employees to collectively bargain, but members want to learn more about the process first.
“We have all voiced support to move through the process but there’s a lot about the process that we don’t understand yet,” school board chairwoman Lisa Larson-Torres said at a meeting Thursday.
The board unanimously voted Thursday to authorize schools Superintendent Royal Gurley Jr. to start working with the Charlottesville Education Association on the specifics of a resolution for collective bargaining.
Gurley said the board’s vote will allow him to work on behalf of the board on that resolution. He plans to meet with CEA, which proposed its own resolution three weeks ago, as well as board members to find out what the board needs moving forward from the process.
The school division has not had a full-time director of human resources since last July.
Several board members said they need more information about collective bargaining will work and time to talk with one another about the issue. The board has a retreat in June, which several members said would be a good opportunity to have those discussions.
“If we can trust in a healthy process and we have trust in each other, then I think we can do this,” school board member Sherry Kraft said. “I don’t think any of us are trying to stall or slow anything but please allow us as board time that we need to talk to each other. This is new for all of us, and we just really need that in order to fully move forward with confidence.”
Before the board’s vote, Charlottesville teachers and community members expressed concern during public comment about the proposed language for that authorization, which would’ve allowed the superintendent to develop a proposed resolution in consultant with “various stakeholder groups and the school board attorney” as well as the Charlottesville Education Association.
Teachers who are part of the CEA wanted the board to better outline the association’s role in developing the resolution. Most of the school board has expressed support for collective bargaining and said Thursday that they wanted to see CEA involved discussions about the resolution.
“Why are we taking two steps back when we have a path forward?” asked Rae Regan, a reading specialist at Walker Upper Elementary School and chair of CEA’s organizing campaign.
Under a state law that went into effect May 2021, teachers and other public-sector employees can negotiate a contract that would cover wages, hours and other work conditions. For this to occur, the School Board must first adopt an ordinance or resolution allowing those collective bargaining, which it doesn’t have to do.
Gurley said he had no intention writing his own resolution.
“The only intent moving forward is for us to be partners,” he said.
After the board’s vote, CEA members thanked the board for its support and said they would help answer any questions.
“I very much look forward to sitting down with with you and whoever is from the board to work on this resolution,” said David Koenig, a teacher at Lugo-McGinness Academy and co-chair of CEA’s organizing committee. “I hope that we hear from you very, very soon because we stand here ready to begin work.”
Teachers and community members attended Thursday’s meeting, wearing red to show their support for collective bargaining. Nine people spoke at the beginning of the meeting in support of collective bargaining; no one was publicly opposed.
Imogen Campbell, a fifth-grader at Walker Upper Elementary, said teachers deserve better pay and a say in how the school is run.
“They work hard for us, so we should give them the respect that they deserve by allowing collective bargaining, she said.
Imogen’s sister, Gudrun, said she has seen teachers make sacrifices for their students. The CHS freshman added that collective bargaining would help students as well.
“Well-paid teachers with good working conditions have less to worry about allowing them to focus on students,” she said. “To keep the best teachers you need to treat them like the best teachers.”
CEA organizers had hoped to have a resolution adopted before the end of the school year.
Bekah Saxon, a local director with the Virginia Education Association, said she understands that the school board members might need some time to develop common vision of what they want and need from bargaining.
“We are all operating without a clear set of instructions, which is both exciting and a little nerve-wracking,” Saxon said. “Having a clear understanding that you want your employees to be full partners in this process will set the tone of collaboration that you all have indicated that you desire.”
Saxon also addressed the recent comments from interim City Manager Michael Rogers who said on Monday that the state law permitting collective bargaining for public employees did not apply to elected school boards. He walked back those comments Wednesday following an inquiry from the Daily Progress.
“The City Manager did not intend to express any legal opinion as to statutory interpretation,” Rogers’ office said in a statement. “Rather, he was speaking from a practical and budgetary perspective.”
School boards don’t have taxing authority, and any action related to collective bargaining will be subject to availability and appropriation of federal, state and local funding, according to the statement.
“No collective bargaining resolution adopted by the school board could be implemented by the school division as a stand-alone approach, and the state law does not mandate City funding,” city staff said in the statement.
Saxon said that Charlottesville teachers are aware of the budget process and that local funding will affect the bargaining process.
“We understand that ultimately, the funding for any contract we negotiate will depend on the allocation of monies by City Council,” Saxon said.
At Monday’s council meeting, Rogers said the city needed to discuss the issue further with Gurley.
“Because in our conversation, he thinks that they may move forward with something and I just want to make sure that we’re in sync and whether they are under an ordinance that is adopted by the council, then they need to wait on us,” he said.
The city is currently interviewing consultants who will help create a collective bargaining ordinance. Rogers told councilors he expects to bring an ordinance that would permit collective bargaining for city employees to council in early summer.