Scottsdale teachers show solidarity at governing board meeting

A view of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board Room on April 25. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Rumbling consternation within the ranks of Scottsdale Unified School District teachers and employees reached a deep baritone Tuesday, April 25 when several of those upset over the current state of affairs walked out of a public meeting in a show of distaste.

In attendance were a large number of concerned employees voicing their opinion, who ultimately walked out of the governing board room all-together following the public comment portion of the meeting.

Teachers, parents and community members spoke out against various decisions and changes made within the district.

To abide by governing board rules urging against applause or reaction in between speakers, the audience was armored with green slips of paper, they would hold up into the air to show agreement.

Teachers often speak at the public comment portion of board meetings, and the movement seems to be picking up steam in recent weeks.

Scottsdale Education Association President Julie Cieniawski says she believes the main reason teachers have been speaking out during public meetings is for the well-being of their students.

“Teachers who work with students all day see the impact of the decisions being made without their input,” Ms. Cieniawski, who is a teacher within the district, said in an April 26 written response to emailed questions.

“Somehow it has become the status quo to inform teachers after decisions have been made. This is evident at the state level through bad legislation, which guides many of our rules and regulations and at the local level.”

One example played out in March, as the school board called a special meeting where Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell presented reasoning and data as to why the district should change its hiring timeline.

Dr. Birdwell said at the meeting district officials believe the Teacher Employment Agreement has some issues causing frustration. The TEA is a one-year contract from July 1-June 30 every year, between the district and teachers.

On March 16 the governing board voted 5-0 to suspend the transfer section of the 2016-17 TEA and adopt a new expedited staffing timeline.

“We have systems put in place to provide stability for our employees and to guide the function process of our schools,” Ms. Cieniawski explained. “Our Teacher Employment Agreement is a major part of this. Yet, it has been addressed as if it were expendable or in the way of progress.”

Ms. Cieniawski feels if the district leaders find the TEA as expendable, then they see the employees relying on it that way as well.

“We want to be treated with respect — not of just words but of actions and long term commitments. When we have a difference in opinion, we do not want that viewed as a strike against us but as authentic input,” she explained. “We want to be trusted as capable, and included as part of the solution. We are tired of the term ‘trust’ being throw out there as the excuse for not including our voice or interests in the issues we need to address.”

The Scottsdale educator says the SEA is just getting started with its collaborative efforts, and has been receiving inquiries from parents about getting involved.

“I feel incredibly proud that teachers are feeling empowered to come out of their comfort zone and speak at our public board meetings,” she said. “We will continue with our comments, conversations, and community involvement until we see the change we feel is in the best interest of our district. This is not to be viewed as threatening, it is healthy to have open and honest discussions to have meaningful impact.”

Following the teachers’ address to the governing board and district officials, Assistant Superintendent of Personnel and Specialized Services Dr. Pam Sitton presented the board with an outline of teacher salary goals.

“Cabinet has set the goal of raising teachers salaries by 10 percent from fiscal year 2016 to 2019,” Dr. Sitton explained.

“Raising beginning teacher salary to $40,000 within five years; continuing to fund horizontal move for the continued education of our teachers. Through efficiencies and programs and reduction at district level staffing, 2 percent is being allocated for next year and cabinet is confident that additional dollars will be available from the state also for next year.”

Additionally, dollars from the override are planned to go to teachers for new laptops in August 2017, while student laptop carts are set to be deployed in the 2018-19 school year.

A better tomorrow

Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board President Barbara Perleberg says she embraces the passion she sees in the governing board meetings, and is focused on fixing any broken system.

Barbara Perleberg

“Being a life-long SUSD resident, I embrace the passion and engagement that our proud community is known for,” she said in an April 26 emailed response to questions.

“With the difficult environment surrounding public education over the past decade, voices express frustration, fear and distrust have unfortunately been the norm, and they are not new in SUSD.”

When first joining the governing board in 2013, President Perleberg says she was overwhelmed with input from district stakeholders including teachers, principals and parents that the district was headed in the wrong direction.

“With new district leadership, our governing board has been completely student-focused and dedicated to strengthening accountable, empowered leadership at our schools that will engage and support our teachers in the work necessary for high academic achievement,” she explained.

“In the past year, so many decisions have been focused on great learning: competitive pay, professional development, a classroom-driven budget, and fixing the broken systems within our organization that need to better support our students, families and staff.”

Hard work has been put into the changes the governing board is implementing, President Perleberg contends.

“It is now our job to share with our community how this shift in direction is, in fact, heading us toward a brighter and healthier future,” she explained. “Many can already see it, and for them we can’t get to our destination fast enough. For others, the dialogue must continue, and we will be strong for it.”

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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