California school districts will receive a projected $8.5 billion next year to support disadvantaged students. How will they choose to spend it?
Between pressure from teachers unions to raise salaries and warnings from the state department of education that money intended to serve low-income children and English learners generally can’t be used to fund across-the-board pay raises for teachers, deciding how to divvy up the funds is no small task.
The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) adds a new layer of complexity to negotiations between districts and unions—but it can also set the stage for more effective bargaining. As education leaders make difficult choices between staff pay raises and classroom programs, their Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) can serve as powerful negotiation tools.
“Bargaining for your district is about taking the best possible care of employees while advancing your organization’s mission,” said Terilyn Finders of Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP, a sponsor of ACSA’s Negotiators’ Planning Retreat. The three-day workshop helps district teams strategically prepare for negotiations in an LCFF environment.
By nature, teachers unions are heavily focused on compensation and working environment while districts are responsible for negotiating to advance their mission and ensure all students are served. “They don’t always see eye to eye,” Finders said.
But by aligning negotiations with strategic goals—and using the LCAP process to create a shared focus on student achievement—district leaders can pave the way for better bargaining outcomes for both teachers and students. She offered the following tips:
Communicate with stakeholders
When you regularly communicate with education stakeholders about your district’s goals, accomplishments and needs, you’re not just fulfilling the LCAP’s community engagement requirement. You’re building a shared understanding for your district, which provides common ground from which to begin negotiations.
“LCAP is a platform that allows (and requires) us to be in a continual dialogue with school communities about goals, accomplishments, where we need to refine or retool, and how we allocate resources,” Finders said. “If you’re continually in that communication mode, internally and externally, you’re building a stronger rationale for your position at the bargaining table.”
Prepare your negotiating team
Effective negotiations require a thorough understanding of how your district’s LCAP aligns with student and teacher needs. The negotiating team is responsible for:
- Identifying stakeholders and get input and commitment from them.
- Receiving and understand board parameters.
- Preparing and coordinating for negotiations.
- Arriving prepared with a full range of knowledge and expertise.
- Serving as a reality check.
It’s essential that district negotiators take the time to prepare together as a team. The Negotiators’ Planning Retreat, for example, gives teams the opportunity to work intensively together to develop an outreach and engagement process that not only builds understanding for their LCAP but sets them up for stronger negotiations.
Enlist parent support
Just as parents play a key role in the LCAP process, they’re also a key audience to keep in mind during negotiations.
“School administrators have the unenviable role of balancing a seemingly infinite number of competing demands for resources and meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student population,” said Nicole Gelsomini of the civil rights law firm Public Advocates Inc.
“Although the budget may never stretch far enough to make everyone happy, meaningfully engaging students and parents can make administrators’ jobs easier.”
For example, parent and student support can bolster your decisions in the face of school politics and pressure from interest groups, she said.
Involve teachers in strategic planning
Many districts, facing heightened pressure to engage parents, inadvertently shut teachers out of the planning process. This leaves teachers feeling shunned or “like they don’t have a voice,” Finders said, which can set the stage for challenging negotiations.
To avoid this pitfall, education leaders need to formulate strategies for engaging teachers in the district’s planning efforts. When teachers feel like they have a voice in the LCAP process, they’re more likely to throw their support behind the district’s goals.
“They’re the heart of your organization,” Finders said. “When you share a mission to help all kids succeed, you have a negotiating process that builds confidence.”
Tie professional development to LCAP goals
Professional learning plays a critical role in advancing LCAP goals. It’s also an important bargaining chip in negotiations.
With budgets as tight as they are, districts need to ensure professional development dollars help serve students as well as teachers. That’s why it’s important to tie professional development spending to LCAP goals, Finders said.
Negotiations between districts and teachers unions can be challenging. But by leveraging the LCAP process to get everyone on the same page about student achievement, district leaders can pave the way for success at the bargaining table.