As summer comes to an end, students and staff head back to school. Most school districts in Central Ohio have already opened, while others around the country are preparing to begin their academic year. When they do, what kind of labor-management climate will they see?
We have written several articles about the advantages of employee engagement and effective, problem-solving, labor-management committees. The many positives they offer in the private sector also apply to school districts, including the ones in your communities.
The key is not to wait until situations are terrible and positions become intractable. Employee engagement can help improve instruction, and labor-management committees can plan the systemic change needed to resolve the underlying problems that can impact everyone in the district and community. Communications between all parties can be improved.
Studies have consistently shown when employers are happier they do better work. Working conditions are impacted by the labor-management environment and affect teachers, administrators, and other staff just as they would any employee. While I do not believe teachers would intentionally do a lesser job for their students if they are unhappy, working in a toxic labor-management environment is very difficult.
For example, there is a school district in Central Ohio that has developed a pattern of difficult labor-management relationships. Things got so bad in this district there was a highly acrimonious strike by teachers a couple of years ago.
Certainly no one can make a reasonable argument that teacher strikes are good for education in a district. Money spent preparing for a strike is not being used for needed classroom supplies or equipment. Time spent in meetings weighing the decision whether or not to walk out is not being spent preparing lessons or developing new curriculum. Time spent by students in classrooms staffed by “replacement teachers” is rarely quality instructional time.
In districts such as this one, the damage caused by a strike ripples throughout the community as divisions grow and the public takes sides. When the contract is settled and the walk-out is over, what happens next will be critical to all involved. Will all parties use the opportunity to put things back together or will the conflict continue to simmer?
Unfortunately, for the district we mentioned, the labor-management relationship does not appear to be improving. There was a significant loss of good, experienced teachers to other school districts. Trust levels have remained low, and the labor-management sniping has continued. This week, it resulted in the filing of an Unfair Labor Practices complaint against the Superintendent. Whether or not the complaint is valid, it is evidence of the continued bad labor-management environment.
It is not our purpose to use this article to point the finger of blame at one side or the other in this dispute. Finding blame does not fix problems. Only if both sides decide to change the game and work together to repair the climate can things improve in this or any other school district.
As citizens, ask your school district if they have a cooperative labor-management committee. If not, ask why. Ask the same questions if you are employed by a school district or if you serve on a school board. The time to begin labor-management cooperation and engagement is now. Do not wait until it is too late.
If your schools want to consider ways to start or improve on their cooperative endeavors, have them contact us. We have worked with (and in) schools and can help them build a strong relationship.