DPS Board meets with Durham Association of Educators, decides on meet and confer process

<p>Two protestors collaborate to staple signs and hand them out to people in the crowd.</p>

Two protestors collaborate to staple signs and hand them out to people in the crowd.

The Durham Public Schools Board of Education met Thursday with representatives from the Durham Association of Educators to discuss the adoption of a meet and confer process to foster consistent dialogue between the board and classified employees.

Durham educators called for mutual transparency, accountability and collaboration to resolve the ongoing district pay crisis after weeks of walkouts, protests, school closures, staff sickouts and contentious board meetings. The chain of events began when classified employees saw the district revoke their raises after DPS announced that it overpaid over 1,300 workers due to extensive internal miscommunication and fiscal irresponsibility. 

The new meet and confer process would facilitate the development of policy recommendations at DPS, bringing employees into the decision-making process for the first time. The DAE believes that this policy will aid the district in “retaining Durham Public School staff and attracting highly qualified workers to join Durham Public Schools.”

To ensure that the meet and confer process aligns with the interests of DPS employees, members of the DAE outlined requirements for the meet and confer team’s structure. The team would comprise up to 13 elected employee representatives and an equal number of representatives appointed by the superintendent. The chair or vice chair of the board would serve as non-voting members. 

The team would meet monthly from May through November and at least eight times from December through April to review the budget, staffing, wages and student learning conditions. 

Anna Berg, an occupational therapist at E.K. Powe Elementary School, emphasized how the current payroll issue could have been averted by collaboration between DPS and a meet and confer team. She also expressed that establishing a formal communication structure would not create any new financial difficulties for the district.

“Let's be clear, meet and confer is not an economic policy. It doesn't mandate any financial commitments. It doesn't create any new funding sources. And it doesn't cost anything to put in place,” she said.

She noted that transparency with information and access to data “would have gone a really long way” and that her colleagues would have been able to find out early the discrepancy between the budget and proposed salary schedules.

For Quentin Headen, an instructional assistant at Riverside High School, the meet and confer process is similar to maintaining trust and transparency in the classroom. He noted that as a teacher, he is “not a perfect person,” but he supports his students’ right and responsibility to call him out when he makes mistakes.

“That's what this meet [and] confer process basically will look like. It's a partnership. It's a team. It's a family. It's a community. We're working side by side. We're helping each other get through these crazy navigated waters, and we can get through it safely together,” he said. “There wouldn't be no problems with this group. … We would all be in it as one. We're not here to rehash the past, but we are here to look forward to the future.” 

Transportation support staff, including mechanics, fleet maintenance supervisors and lot managers, planned to speak at the meeting but instead walked out in protest, claiming that they did not feel represented by the DAE.

Schools closed last Friday and Monday when the districts’ transportation support staff called out for protest. DAE released in a statement that it did not organize the protests.

The walkout prompted board members to raise concerns about the need to “open up the table” to affected employees who were not members of the DAE but whose voices deserve to be heard. Members of the DPS board and DAE then debated the composition of the ad hoc committee, specifically how many employees beyond DAE’s representatives should be added.

The board decided to appoint at next week’s meeting a working group that would include two board members, two administrative staff, four representatives from DAE and four employee representatives outside of DAE. 

Board chair Bettina Umstead made a final comment on the progress made by board members and the DAE over the three-hour session. 

“This is a historic meeting; it's never happened before. So we need to celebrate the fact that this is a historic moment that we're sitting at a table,” she said. “We want to meet and figure it out. And we also have respect for all the other things that are happening around us in our community.”

The board will reconvene on Feb. 22 to discuss long-term salary options and delegate further policy plans to an ad hoc working group.


Lucas Lin

Lucas Lin is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter for the news department.       

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