Prince William School staff begin to push for collective bargaining | Securities

As the students return from winter vacation, the campaign for collective bargaining rights for Prince William County public school employees begins.

With schools now reopening after snow days last week, representatives of the Prince William Education Association in the division’s 94 school buildings planned to start collecting signatures from teachers, guards, transport staff and d ‘other school employees. The association hopes to bring a collective bargaining proposal to the school board before the end of the spring semester.

If the association can garner the support of more than half of the division’s employees, the board will have 90 days to respond to the proposal and could initiate collective bargaining for school employees for the first time in county history. .

The new push for bargaining rights is the result of a 2020 law passed by the General Assembly repealing the state’s ban on public sector bargaining, which had been in place since 1977. The law entered effective in May, and Richmond teachers were the first to successfully win collective bargaining rights last month.

Efforts are also underway to establish a bargaining process for Prince William County employees, with the county’s board of supervisors voting 5-2 in December to begin work on a bargaining order. Advocates for the Prince William Education Association – the teachers’ union – say their efforts are part of a larger campaign for the rights of public sector employees in the county and that they will not only benefit school employees. school division.

The division, like others across the country, faces a staffing shortage that has only worsened since the start of the pandemic and is hampering plans to improve academic performance and recover lost learning while the schools were completely virtual for almost a year. And just as the shortages have affected all kinds of school departments, from classroom staff to transportation and food services, the union hopes to negotiate more competitive salaries for all staff, making the positions more attractive.

“We want and aim to be able to negotiate for all groups outside of government, and that includes members and non-members of PWEA,” said PWEA President Maggie Hansford.

Speaking to InsideNoVa and school board meetings, teachers have voiced numerous complaints about the administration this year, many of which they say have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Staff have already secured some concessions from the division, such as compensation for time spent waiting for understaffed buses to pick up all students after school, and for lost planning time for replacement duties or meetings (the division also suffers from a severe shortage of substitutes). Hansford and others say the division is losing teachers and generally has a retention problem, although they don’t have data on retention levels.

But many teachers said these issues only scratch the surface of what they’re asked to do outside of what’s in their contracts, and the division will have to keep pace with neighboring counties in terms of pay for that staff reach sufficient standards. Other school systems around Northern Virginia are negotiating similar efforts.

“If we were to hire more teachers and reduce the size of our classes, not only would it make our teaching more efficient, but it would also make our jobs a lot less stressful,” said Jerod Gay, professor of language arts at the George Hampton Middle School. . “There’s definitely a feeling, I think, among teachers, not just in the county but across the country, of desperation right now. “

According to the latest Virginia Department of Education salary survey, the average budgeted salary for a Prince William teacher in fiscal year 2021 was $ 70,281. It’s ahead of neighboring municipalities like Manassas and Manassas Park, but the division – the second largest in the state – lags far behind the state’s largest, Fairfax (at over $ 79,000) and follows also Loudoun County and Alexandria.

Teachers say that when you consider that most of them had to pay for a master’s degree, these pay levels don’t cut it off in an increasingly expensive field.

Ultimately, teacher compensation is dictated in large part by state and county contributions to the division, over which the school board and county administrators have little control. But union representatives say they want to help the division better allocate funds to keep the money where it belongs.

Brandie Provenzano, a language arts teacher at Battlefield High School who has been in the division for 20 years, used a recent example from the division that rolled out an online textbook in classrooms.

“It’s a huge push from the county, this online manual. I could have told them in advance, let’s not spend our money… in an online manual. Our students are tired of looking at screens, begging for paper and pencil. I don’t need an online manual, I’ve been teaching for 20 years and everything I need is already available, ”she said. “If you asked teachers and educators, they would say ‘We didn’t need this.’ But now we have it and the schools have paid a premium for it.

Division staff could not specify the cost of the program, called HMH Into Literature.

Union members also say their demands don’t stop at better pay. They say they will also fight for better comprehensive services for students, such as more counseling and social work staff who can help students and lighten the burden on teachers, or more funding to support teachers who actually helps drive home learning for students.

“If I’m teaching in a class of 32 high school students and one of my students is having emotional difficulties that day… they need help then. Is it going to come from me? I have 31 students in class who are waiting. Or is there an advisor available? But the advisers are all busy because we are understaffed. … When we talk about resources, I am talking about people. It’s not just about the money, ”said Provenzano. “If we don’t have a place at the table to participate in the conversation, we can’t stand up for the resources our students need, we can’t stand up for the things that would keep professionals, the best of the best, in the best of the best. profession.”

A possible complication to the negotiating effort could come from the leadership of the PWEA. In October, the Virginia Education Association – the parent organization of PWEA – stepped in to take over the local’s finances, constitution and elections after an internal power struggle.

If the PWEA can collect the required signatures and the school board decides to grant bargaining rights, school employees will elect the representation for bargaining by secret ballot. And although at the time, Hansford and his allies at PWEA said the takeover of VEA could jeopardize the promotion of collective bargaining, Hansford now insists the organizations work together.

“PWEA and VEA are working together to promote the best interests of our students and educators in Prince William,” she told InsideNoVa. “As President, I continue to strive to encourage the leaders of the PWCS Division and the school board to take action to implement collective bargaining. “

A number of school board members have already expressed their willingness to work with the teachers’ union on a collective bargaining process and have shown support for the leadership of the PWEA in its internal struggle against the VEA last fall.

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