Tukwila School Board repeals open collective bargaining resolution

Board members say they will find others ways to increase transparency.

The Tukwila School Board has repealed a resolution passed last July that made collective bargaining open to the public, despite appeals from residents to keep the process open.

The board voted 4-0 at its meeting Feb. 13 to rescind Resolution No. 855, which 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.

Board president Dave Larson and board members Tracy Russell, William Gillispie and Edna Morris voted in favor of repealing the motion. Board member Jan Bolerjack abstained from the vote.

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

Larson told the board on Feb. 13 the resolution was first presented as a way to increase transparency in the district.

“I think the way that we can address the transparency issue without having this resolution is – and this is something a lot of other boards do – a board member can sit in on the negotiations as a representative of the taxpayers and observe what is going on,” Larson said. “I think that can be informative for understanding the process as a first start, but for me actually the most important thing, which is something we have been trying to get for a while, is transparency in the budget.”

Larson said the board will work with district staff to create documents that explain the budget in a way the community can understand.

“To me that is the first item in transparency in terms of what is going on here, and, of course, a lot of what we will be able to see is what the outcome of any negotiated contract is on the budget,” he said.

Bolerjack said rescinding the resolution was a complicated issue.

“I don’t think with a new board that we are ready to launch into something new like this,” she said. “I think it make us really vulnerable, and yet, if we don’t do it, how do we work through that feeling of secrecy? … We don’t have the trust yet, and to say we’re not going to do this feels like we take the trust back a few steps. … It feels like we really have got to work hard to be transparent in a way that makes sense to people.”

The board had a public hearing to discuss rescinding the resolution on Jan. 23, and several staff members spoke in favor of its repeal.

Brett Christopher, principal at Showalter Middle School, asked the board on Jan. 23 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.”

During the Jan. 23 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,” Fertakis said. “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.”

During public comment at the Feb. 13 meeting, four residents, including Fertakis, spoke in favor of keeping the resolution in place.

Tukwila resident Christine Nueffer, said during public comment district business, including contract negotiations, should not be conducted behind closed doors.

“These contracts are very important, and they have a fundamental influence on the outcomes for students and interaction with their families in the district,” Nueffer said. “A lack of transparency is always a product of self-interested parties, therefore when that happens the public’s business is not being conducted in the public’s eye. The district, as well as the employees, work for a public entity funded by taxpayers that serves the families directly.”

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