By Sally Absher

BOE Chairman Mike McMillan requested a discussion of collaborative conferencing in last Monday’s work session.

A little background: Collaborative Conferencing is the process under PECCA by which local school boards collaborate with local teachers’ associations on the following items: salaries and wages, insurance, fringe benefits, leave, grievance procedures, payroll deductions, and working conditions for teachers.

PECCA, the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act, has been state law since 2011 when the General Assembly abolished the Education Professional Negotiations Act and stripped school boards of the authority to engage in collective bargaining with organizations representing teachers.

Collaborative conferencing requires the parties to enter a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the items agreed upon, with the MOU valid for up to three years.

However, the Act does not require collaborative conferencing, agreement on any terms, or an MOU. If a local board and the representative of teachers cannot reach agreement on any items, the board has the authority to address them according to board policy.

Knox County was the first school district in the state to start the collaborative conferencing process (October 2011) but is among the last to fully comply. The school board had three years to collaborate with Knox County Education Association (KCEA) to draft a MOU.

The previous school board delegated its authority to Superintendent Dr. McIntyre, and failed to adequately monitor the progress of the collaboration or follow up with the process.

There is some confusion as to when the clock started ticking, and when the three years are up. Dr. McIntyre said the vote on the management team (to represent the BOE) was December 7, 2011, meaning the board would have until the voting meeting in December to approve any memorandum or agreement.

There are three collaborative conferencing sessions scheduled between now and the December regular BOE meeting.

Dr. McIntyre said “We have made a lot of progress in talking through issues and coming to consensus on some areas, there is a lot more that perhaps we haven’t come to consensus on, but in the next three sessions to try to come to consensus on as much as we can, and to present to the BOE a MOU based on those areas of agreement.”

He said the conferencing process is intentionally deliberative and takes time. He also blamed the holdup on the state delay in providing training, the joint training session, and the procurement process to hire a facilitator. Apparently they hired three facilitators.

McMillan said “Well for whatever reason, you’re facing the 11th hour of a 36 month timeframe…I think it would be a shame if we couldn’t reach an agreement… Many systems have achieved that success.”

Tonya Coats, KCEA president, said the petition (to initiate collaborative conferencing) needs to be completed and turned in by November 1. Since there are no guarantees that an agreement will be reached and a MOU signed by the end of the three year period, KCEA is going ahead with re-starting the petition process.

Patti Bounds and Terry Hill indicated they would be interested in attending and observing the collaborative conferencing sessions, something BOE members have not done previously.