Keys to Easy Negotiations in Sweetwater #2

GREA uses Interest Based Negotiations (IBN) when coming to the table and negotiating teacher contracts – a process that GREA President Scott Blume said “took about ten years, and a willingness on all sides to change.”

WEA collaborated with GREA past-President Robin Steiss to help with the undertaking, and the initial introduction and training of IBN was provided by former UniServ Director Matt Kruse. Today, Southwest Region UniServ Director Carol Jelaco has taken over and helps mediate negotiations with GREA and the district, a now-tradition that came with trust, communication, and transparency. “WEA’s help was tremendous, and we’ve used WEA as a moderator ever since,” Blume said.

Steve Core was a Board member in the early 1990s, when negotiations were far from where they are now. He left the Board in 1996 because he was “losing friends” in the community. In 1996, change was on the horizon, so when Core was re-elected to the Board in 2006, he came back to a much different atmosphere. Trust and transparency are keys to the situation we have today,” Core said. “Teachers are in the trenches every day, trying to give the best education to our kids, so we have to trust them – they know what’s going on,” Core said. They all learned that working together was far more productive than being secretive and having an argumentative, dishonest relationship.

Core said Board meetings look a lot different than they used to, as well.  “Board meetings aren’t just action items and we leave,” Core said. Workshops and presentations keep the Board informed and help find ways in which board members can help the district grow.

When Superintendent Donna Little-Kaumo first came in to the district, she said it was a breath of fresh air how great the collaboration was with the GREA. “It [negotiating] is not always easy. We have one pie and ‘this much’ money, and there’s only so much we can do, so we always try to communicate and inform everyone. If there’s any extra dollars, it goes to the employees—that’s where it should go,” she said. Little-Kaumo said that by the time they get to the table, the work has already been done on the front end, so it’s almost like “sitting down to a nice dinner.”

Superintendent Little-Kaumo emphasized, “Transparency and trust is number one! The people standing in front of our students every day are the ones making the biggest difference for where a district goes, and the board understands that. This is about a partnership with each other, and our investment in educators works for everyone. We have a commitment to keep their best interests in mind: we have to continue hiring the best teachers and retaining them—and in order to do that, you have to treat them right and pay them well, and the Association believes we do that.”

Everyone at the table agreed that the people working in the district are smart thinkers and trust that the administration and GREA understand numbers and invest in trust—with that trust, they have gone in amazing directions. “We’re all taxpayers and work in the public school system, so there’s no secret here. We’re all in the same effort of educating children,” Little-Kaumo said.