On Sept. 8, the Clover Park School District Board of Directors approved a three-year negotiated agreement with the Clover Park Education Association (CPEA). After a review of the agreement, board member Elli Falk made a motion for approval and board member Walt Kellcy, Jr. seconded it. In only seconds, the vote was taken and the agreement approved.
Although it was quick work for the school board to approve the agreement, the process took much longer. “Our work really started about a year ago,” said Michelle Jenner, CPEA president. CPEA represents more than 850 teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses and specialists in Clover Park School District (CPSD).
The “work” Jenner refers to was the beginning of interest-based bargaining. Previously, CPSD and CPEA utilized traditional or position-based bargaining strategies to develop negotiated agreements. Interest-based bargaining (IBB) is based on the principles of focusing on the parties’ issues and interests, not on personalities and positions. Successful IBB requires joint training, a commitment to the process and assistance from skilled facilitators.
“The premise of IBB is that both parties have interests that complement each other,” said Doug Kernutt, CPSD administrator for human resources. “Both parties want the employer to excel at what it does.”
Big Leap of Faith
The district and the association approached the concept of IBB with caution. “It takes a lot of trust on both sides,” said Jenner. “Without trust, you can’t problem solve or build relationships.”
Timing for the new process was another key factor.
“Some administrative changes occurred last school year and there was a shift in the way business was being done,” said Jenner. “The district and association had an interest in changing the bargaining process. Both of us thought the timing was right.”
According to Jenner, IBB can be risky. “It is a culture change,” she said. “Both sides were taking a big chance.”
Kernutt agreed, “We had to trust each other, without taking advantage. We worked together; instead of working separately, within our ranks.”
The Process Begins
To prepare for negotiations, CPEA worked from January through March using several strategies to get input from its members to learn what issues or concerns were surfacing. In the meantime, school district representatives develop a list of topics and issues to address as well.
“When we first came together, we discovered that there was a lot of interest around the same issues, like class size and planning time,” Jenner said.
The next steps were very deliberate. The teams looked at issues and developed solutions that benefited students and created a better work climate for staff. They looked for outcomes that would benefit all. The teams were creative and brainstormed possible solutions, which freed up thinking about the issues.
According to Jenner, the IBB process takes longer and goes more in depth than traditional or position-based bargaining.
“We stayed very focused and really looked at all potential solutions. We needed to make sure possible resolutions really solved the issues,” she said.
“Some issues were easier to address than others,” Kernutt noted. “However, we committed to take the time we needed to find the best solution.”
“The association set a deadline of June 1 to see if IBB would work,” Jenner said. “If it hadn’t worked by that date, we were going to go back to positional bargaining, so that we would still have enough time to reach an agreement in time for school to start.”
By early August, the negotiating teams had addressed approximately 300 issues. The teams admit they “hit some snags” along the way, but got past them and continued to work.
The End Result
As the teams worked on issues, it was important to keep CPEA members informed of the progress being made.
“We were very intentional about our communication with our members,” Jenner said. “We didn’t want them to have any surprises related to this process. The research we did with our members in advance regarding their concerns and issues was very powerful to have. The information from our negotiations was tied directly back to their issues and interests.”
In their meeting on Aug. 25, CPEA members ratified the negotiated agreement with a 96 percent approval rate and school started successfully on Sept. 3.
Jenner and Kernutt agree that there are other positive outcomes as well.
“We have a better understanding of each other and a healthier, more trusting relationship with district leadership,” Jenner explained. “We both are interested in CPSD being a great place for kids to learn and employees to work.”