Washington State Superintendents: Experiences With and Perspectives on the Collective Bargaining Process
Varkados, Ann Denise
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The purpose of this study is to understand the perspectives of Washington school superintendents faced with 2011 legislation affecting school funding, teacher evaluations, and teacher salaries. Most immediate, a mandated statewide salary cut of 1.9% created unique pressures on collective bargaining negotiations. This study explores the backgrounds, experiences, and leadership styles of ten superintendents, and how these factors influenced their districts' response to these unprecedented and unexpected challenges.Participants included ten superintendents from districts with between 5,000 and 25,000 students. Interviews included questions specifically focused on leadership, experience, challenges, and opportunities.The findings indicated that superintendents collaborated with their school boards, administrators, teachers, and various union groups in order to reach what all parties saw as fair and equitable agreements regarding pay cuts and working conditions. Though the economic challenges varied from district to district, as did superintendent strategies for collective bargaining, superintendents tried to maintain good working relationships with each stakeholder group and tried to protect education quality for their students.This study also draws attention to the significant differences in funding available to Washington districts. Because school districts have neither the same value of taxable property, nor the same willingness of voters to authorize operating levies, there is significant disparity in teacher salaries, extended pay funding, pupil/teacher ratio, and other forms of compensation. Between 2011 and 2012, some superintendents used reserve funds to replace compensation cut by the state. Others reduced professional development requirements and/or required teachers to take unpaid furlough days. Though all superintendents favored collaborative negotiations, this study indicates that, as financial distress increases and there is little or nothing to offer in negotiation, parties often revert to a more positional approach to collective bargaining.