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Before the new school year resumes, officials from the Los Alamos Public School District, the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees and the Los Alamos Board of Education will be meeting to clear up some communication issues in the most recent Memorandum of understanding between the school district and the labor union.
During a meeting in May, school board member Dr. Kevin Honnell brought those issues to light during a session concerning proposed language changes in the MOU. In that meeting, Honnell urged his fellow board members to table the series of MOU proposals for a later date, until they can arrive at some fundamental understanding as far as communication protocol is concerned.
“I’d like to urge my fellow colleagues to either consider tabling or postponing this action because I think it’s bad for our schools and was arrived at through a bad process,” said Honnell. “...First, this is coming to the board out of left field. To the best of my knowledge, none of us was even aware that this (proposed language changes to MOU) was going on, though at least, reportedly this is a negotiation on behalf of the board and the federation.”
After pointing out some specific issues he had with the MOU, Honnell concluded by saying the whole idea of presenting negotiated policy issues to the board at the last-minute with an expectation they be voted on immediately, has him worried.
“What I’m concerned with, that with increasing frequency, policy is being made through behind-the-door negotiations between the unions and the administration without the knowledge or involvement of the public, who are the owners of this enterprise, or the school board, which is representing the public,” Honnell said. “We’ve seen this happening for two or three years now, and so now here we have before us something that appeared only two days ago, and we’re being asked to give a rubber stamp to it.”
The rest of the board agreed, and tabled the MOU changes until later this summer.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt also agreed. “I believe that there are significant questions that need to be explained, and perhaps justified,” he said. “Now that this conversation is open to the public, we have a chance to involve the public in the conversation.”
Gerry Washburn, human resources coordinator for the LAPS, understood Honnell’s objections as well, but also clarified that what happened at the meeting was a fundamental communications issue that needs to be fixed.
“Negotiations (between the LAFSE and the school district) are confidential, so you really have to be careful about how much you say and when you say it and who you say it to,” Washburn said.
“What we saw in the board meeting where we made those proposed changes, we saw that what we needed was a better briefing process to bring those possible language changes or any other changes in the contract to the board without violating confidentiality agreements.”
Washburn said he’s confident a solution will be arrived at that will satisfy all parties, though the answer won’t be a simple one.
“It’s a difficult issue to brief people on, and then vet it with constituents,” Washburn said. “It’s supposed to be confidential, and it can be construed as bargaining in public if we get too wild and wooly. Our negotiating committee has met with the union and we’ve all agreed we’re going to come up with a better way to do that.”