Tukwila School Board reconsiders conducting collective bargaining in open meetings

Board expected to vote on resolution at Feb. 13 meeting.

The Tukwila School Board is considering rescinding a resolution passed last July that made collective bargaining open to the public.

The board held a public hearing to discuss the resolution on Jan. 23 and plans to vote on the matter at its Feb. 13 board meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Thorndyke Elementary, 4415 S. 150th St.

Four of the five board members who were on the board at the time the resolution passed are no longer on the board. The only current board member who was on the board then, board president Dave Larson, voted against the original resolution last July.

Resolution No. 855 changed the board’s policy to conduct labor-management contract negotiations in open public meetings. State law does not require negotiations to take place in open meetings.

The public would not be allowed to participate in the negotiations, only observe the proceedings.

During the public hearing, former board member Mary Fertakis explained the intent of the resolution. Fertakis, who decided not to run for an additional term last year after 22 years on the board, was one of the board members who voted in favor of the resolution last July.

“Resolution 855 was designed to allow district staff, parents, students and Tukwila taxpayers a more transparent process to review the collective bargaining process,” she said. “Staff would under this resolution, for the first time, be able to see what is being bargained on their behalf though the process and be able to communicate to their leadership while the process is taking place.

“The board would be able to see for the first time what is actually being said rather than having the filter of administrators communicate that information as they choose. The public, whose tax dollars fund Tukwila School District programs, salaries and benefits, will be able to see if their public dollars are supporting fair salary and benefit packages that make up approximately 80 percent of the budget.”

The public has a right to know how their money is being spent, Fertakis said.

“The board was elected by taxpayers in this community to be responsible fiscal stewards of the public’s money,” she said. “The resolution is a legal, well-researched and reliable way to fulfill this requirement of their job.”

The resolution was not an attempt at union busting, Fertakis said.

“If union busting was the intent, the board would have implemented the resolution immediately as there was a bargaining taking place for athletics and extracurriculars when it was voted on in July,” she said. “The board intentionally stated that it would not go into effect until 2018 so that the current bargaining taking place would not be interrupted.”

Several district employees spoke against the resolution during the hearing.

Brett Christopher, principal at Showalter Middle School, asked the board on behalf of the principals in the district to reconsider the resolution.

“We believe the intent of closed door negotiations can easily be misconstrued and thought that it is secretive and meant to keep voices out of the conversation,” he said. “We strongly believe the opposite is true, that in fact the nature of closed-door discussions allow for more voices of descent and provides a level of trust that is necessary to express various viewpoints of those representatives at the negotiation table.”

Tukwila Education Association president Brian Seigel said the resolution seems to attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

“We talk about transparency for community members but looking at the audience I can maybe count on one hand community members, non-district employees,” he said. “So, I don’t know that the interest is out there in the community for this open bargaining.”

Seigel said all of the unions that represent district employees are opposed to the open bargaining resolution.

During the regular board meeting, which followed the public hearing, Larson told the new board members he thinks there are better ways increase transparency instead of the open bargaining resolution .

He said one way would be to have a board member sit in on the negotiations. The district could also provide the public with easy-to-understand documents pertaining to the budget.

“If we had that commitment to provide much more transparency into where the district is spending money, to me, that would be a part of what needs to get done,” Larson said. “That would not only help in talking about what is going on with bargaining but also in the budget process from year to year.”

Board member Edna Morris said she agreed with Larson’s sentiments.

“I think you have come up with a nice way to deal with the transparency,” she said. “I am very comfortable with rescinding this.”

Interim Superintendent Judith Berry said the bargaining process already includes safeguards to ensure transparency.

“When the union brings their issues to the table, they have officers there and they are bringing them to the table on behalf of their membership,” she said. “When management comes to the table we will have met with the board, so I look at the transparency at already built in. We do not come to the table representing ourselves as individuals.”

Members of the board can be a part of the negotiations team, Berry added.

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