Teachers union gears up for elections | SierraSun.com

Teachers union gears up for elections

Jenny Goldsmith
Sierra Sun

Three school board members up for re-election will vie for their positions in November, and members of the teachers union are determined to recruit candidates who will strive to change the current climate of the board.

For the first time in two years, the Tahoe Truckee Education Association is activating its Political Action Committee to rally and support candidates who advocate “positive communication and collaboration with the teachers,” said Ed Hilton, a sixth grade math and science teacher at Alder Creek Middle School and Political Action Committee chair.

“We’re concerned about the negativity coming from the school board,” Hilton said. “It’s hard for me to want to stay in a district that does not treat teachers as professionals, and I’m not talking only about pay.”

The committee, or Citizens for Better Education, will recruit and interview candidates to find out where they stand before making a recommendation to the teachers union to endorse their campaign, Hilton said.

Incumbents Kristy Olk, Monty Folsom and Nancy Gisko will seek re-election this fall to the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District Board of Trustees according to Olk, but there isn’t one specific board member the committee is attempting to replace, Hilton said.

“No school board member has really spoken out in support of the teachers right now,” Hilton said.

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The election may play out in the midst of the ongoing disparities over the school district budget and salary negotiations, and Hilton said while that’s part of the motivation behind the committee, the goal is largely to create a positive working environment.

“I’ve seen how other school boards and districts can work together, and since moving here, I’ve felt a burden to change the way the teachers and administrators collaborate,” Hilton said.

School district officials and teacher union members have been unable to negotiate a contract agreement, so an impasse was declared and a state mediator was brought in to facilitate discussions, which began in May.

The third mediation session was scheduled for June 30, but was canceled and negotiations remain at a standstill, said Jon Halvorsen, vice president of the teachers association.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to be worked out, and that was made more clear when the board adopted the budget for this year,” Halvorsen said.

At the June 25 school board meeting, the 2008-09 fiscal year budget was adopted and showed a zero percent increase in compensation for the teachers, according to Halvorsen.

Board member Olk could neither confirm nor deny the budget claim, but said once the state budget is finalized, the district may have the opportunity to go back and make changes.

In the meantime, mediation sessions will continue between school district officials and teacher union members, but if the mediator determines both sides are unable to reach an agreement, the next step will be to conduct fact finding where a panel of representatives ” one from the union, one from the district and one from a neutral party ” will examine the facts and figures before submitting a written opinion, Halvorsen said.

However, once a recommendation is given, the district can either accept the suggestion or they can negate it, sending union members back to the drawing board, Halvorsen said.

“The teachers would like to avoid that point because the district can give their last and final offer, so we’re trying to do everything we can to negotiate before fact finding,” he said.

The Citizens for Better Education committee is in the process of re-activiation, and enrollment is open to teachers and community members, Hilton said.

The filing period for candidates opened July 14 and lasts through August 8, after which the committee will hold their first meeting to discuss potential endorsements, Hilton said.

“It’s time to change the attitude of the current school board,” Hilton said.