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Davenport teachers union: 'We want to keep our contract.'

Davenport teachers union: 'We want to keep our contract.'

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More than 100 people attended the Davenport school board meeting Monday night. Many were teachers, wearing “red for ed” and asking the school board to adopt a new policy and commit to maintaining a master contract, rather than moving to a handbook during the upcoming negotiations. 

John Kealey, president of the Davenport Education Association, said the teachers union was trying to be proactive in the midst of questions about the direction of the district, as the master contract expires this year. 

The negotiations will be the first for the district since the state rewrote Chapter 20 — which governs collective bargaining for public employees — in 2017. Per the new rules, base wages are essentially the only item that can be negotiated. 

“We thought it would be best to address this body during its first real meeting,” he said after the meeting, adding that he was “very pleased” with the turnout. This meeting was the first hosted entirely by the new school board. 

Ten teachers and union advocates spoke during the open forum to encourage the school board to adopt a policy to mandate a good faith bargaining policy.  

The proposed policy, which DEA member and former chairperson Dan Flaherty passed out before the meeting, reads: “The administration shall bargaining in good faith master contracts for employee groups which shall include all mandatory and permissive subjects of bargaining under Iowa Code Chapter 20. The Administration shall establish joint committees for topics not covered by the master contracts with all certified bargaining agents.” 

The policy was not on the agenda, and the board did not vote on it or discuss it. At the end of the meeting, though, Director Linda Hayes requested the board discuss master contracts compared to employee handbooks. Her request said she didn’t want the board to do a “disservice” to its staff.

After each speaker, the teachers and their supporters applauded. Many cited the more than 70 layoffs last year, as well as teachers leaving of their own accord for other districts and Davenport’s particular problems, including its conditional accreditation and stark budget cuts. 

“When teachers were given pink slips last year, only one was given at Smart (Intermediate), but Smart lost 19 teachers last year. Twelve went to other districts” said Linda Smithson, a teacher-librarian at Smart. “A contract allows buy-in and confidence that Davenport is a good place to work. A handbook leaves too much to chance, and good teachers will go elsewhere.”

Superintendent Robert Kobylski said when he worked in Wisconsin, collective bargaining laws were rewritten to a similar effect, and that he saw superintendents and districts try to take advantage of the situation, which he did not allow in his own.

“We’re all on the same team, and we all have to work together,” he said, to the applause of his staff. After the meeting, Kealey said he was pleased with Kobylski’s remarks. 

Kealey also said he was reassured by the community support and knowing that it wasn’t just teachers who thought it was important. 

“I love my job, and that’s why I feel the need to advocate for myself and other teachers,” said Ashley Sullivan, an elementary special education teacher. “We want to be involved. We want to be respected. We want to keep our contract.”

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