The St. Joseph School District Board of Education adopted a policy reform regarding internal employee representation on Monday night, while hearing opposition from teacher groups.
The district — which does not recognize an official education labor union or similar such collective bargaining organization for teachers — routinely engages with the St. Joseph-Missouri National Education Association and the Missouri State Teachers (St. Joseph Regional) Association. Both teacher groups spoke in opposition to Monday’s update to Board Policy GBQDA. The two groups stated that they reject the update — which expands and reorganizes the 15-20 member United SJSD internal representation board — as a move to dilute teacher voices.
Denise Peters, regional MSTA president, said the change had also come about with limited public transparency.
“The word ‘disheartening’ doesn’t fully describe the feeling of accidentally finding out that our voices had been silenced,” she said. “In the spring, district leadership requested that United (SJSD) go from a board to an administrative committee, with the promise that we wouldn’t be gotten rid of. This fall, that’s the first thing that was done.”
The update was introduced by Dr. Brian Kraus, human resources director, with support from Dr. Doug Van Zyl, superintendent of schools, and administrative colleagues. Aside from the teacher groups, no staffers spoke in favor of, or in opposition to, the measure. Roughly 1,500 total persons work for the district.
“The revised policy institutes a committee structure to replace the United SJSD process (of internal employee representation),” Kraus wrote in a letter to staff, dated for Tuesday. “There will be three committees each with 20-25 members that will be used to gather employee input on various topics … It is very important that committee membership be representative of our employee groups as a whole, so please apply …”
J. Eric Simmons, president of the local MNEA, said there’s no reason to do that.
“There’s no solid basis for this action,” he said. “I ask you and urge you, during this time of COVID-19, in this time of unrest to support our staff and support transparency in this district. So that we don’t return to the ways of the past times. Please vote No on this policy change.”
The school board ultimately voted to pass it 6-0, with board member Lori Witham abstaining, and no board members opposed. Board members did unanimously vote to debate updated Board Policy GBQDA separately from 14 others approved as a block, but ultimately did not modify the policy itself. Board members spent some hours reviewing the policy at the committee level, and the committee unanimously endorsed the change as written, per Board President Tami Pasley.
“I have said to our (teacher) groups I think since I’ve gotten here (in 2018), you know, having only 15 people as part of our conversation around the table is a little limiting,” Van Zyl said via video conference. “Communication is always a challenge, but I think the number of people involved in the three different committees, I think, is beneficial to us not only as a district but also to our staff.”
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