Williams teachers, district remain at impasse

The Williams Teachers Association and the Williams Unified School District remain at an impasse in contract negotiations, and a non-binding fact finding report is expected to be completed and released to the public in the next few weeks.

“We do not have a date, but it should be within the next couple weeks,” said WTA President Tony Hermann. “From my understanding, the three-group panel from the state will be in favor of one party or the other. We feel very strongly that the report will be in the teachers’ favor, but we also recognize that it is not binding, and that they don’t have to act on the report.”

During Thursday’s meeting, school board president Silvia Vaca said that she felt is was important that the district and the WTA go through the fact finding process before any decisions are made.

“We need to get the facts, and everyone needs the answer,” Vaca said. “We hope that through this process, we all get the answers that we need – the public, the teachers, and everyone.”

As he has before, Hermann said that while the teachers don’t want to strike, they are prepared to do so, if needed.

“There’s no turning back at this point. We’re just hoping the district comes to the right decision and recognizes that as educators, we are the backbone of the district,” Hermann said.

Although the board discussed the contract negotiations with the WTA during closed session on Thursday night, no action was taken at the meeting, Williams Unified Superintendent Edgar Lampkin said on Monday.

“All I can share with you is that we value our teachers, and we support our teachers. They are the highest paid in the county, and that represents how we value our teachers – we do want to keep and retain them,” Lampkin said.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, a handful of parents, students, and teachers from other school districts joined about 50 teachers from Williams Unified, who had gathered to protest the stalemate in contract negotiations between the Williams Teachers Association (WTA) and the school district.

“I don’t know if it was much of a protest, but it was trying to show the community’s support, and the parents’ support, for the teachers,” said Hermann. “We wanted the board to realize that the community believes we should be treated fairly, along with all of the other employee groups.”

When people began filtering into the multipurpose room at Williams High School for the board meeting itself, there were packets awaiting them that had been put together by the district; these outlined its stance on the stalled contract negotiations with the WTA.

Included on the informational flier was a sentence that stated while the district’s teachers were the highest paid in the county, their students tested among the worst. That sentence didn’t sit well with Peter Minett, a retired teacher from Nevada County and a former chair at the California Teachers Association’s Feather River Service Center.

“I drove down here to ask a question: Very simply, have we really come to this?” Minett said during the period of public comment. “We’re going to fight over whether or not teachers deserve to be paid, or deserve to be treated as well as the superintendent? That’s ridiculous.”

Minett was referring to the 3.4 percent raise given to the district’s administrative and classified staff last year.

“That was going to be all I had to say, until I saw this,” he continued, holding up one of the district’s fliers. “This is despicable. This right here – you’re publicly shaming your teachers? In China, that’s against the law. In Finland, it’s unheard of. And to use the metrics of test scores, which have been profoundly debunked as a measure of the quality of an education… This is reprehensible, and you should be ashamed of yourselves on this one.”

After the meeting, Hermann claimed that the testing statistics reported on the flier were cherry-picked, and only showed scores for English/Language Arts.

“You notice also that they did not show test scores on our math. They showed English/Language Arts, and our kids already have a strike against them in that subject because many of them are from migrant families, and are learning English for the first time here,” Hermann said. “They also did not show what the growth of our students over the years, as they spent time in the school system. I think that’s what we need to look at, in terms of how the teachers and the students are doing.”

During the period of public comment, a total of eight individuals addressed the impasse, both directly and indirectly, and expressed their support for the Williams Teachers Association’s cause. Sitting at the back of the multi-purpose room at Williams High School, Williams’ teachers held signs, and stood and cheered loudly after each speaker had said their piece.

Among those who spoke during public comment was Mike Greer, a special education teacher for Sutter County and the current chair of the California Teachers Association’s Feather River Service Center. Greer said that he was also a fourth-term elected school board member in Paradise, where he lives, and that he understood the positions of both the school board members and the WTA.

“I understand your position as school board members… I know the problems, what you have to look out for in the budget and so forth. But what I don’t understand is how you give raises to everybody but the teachers,” Greer said.

Greer said that teachers “needed to be treated equally” and deserved a raise in line with the one that administrative and classified staff received.

Beyond the issue of salary, the teachers and parents who spoke at the meeting expressed concerns over the district’s contribution to health benefits and rising premiums, as well as its decision to cut para-educators at the elementary school and the impacts that decision has had on both teachers and students.

WTA files Unfair Practice Charge against Williams Unified

During Thursday’s meeting, WTA President Tony Hermann announced that the WTA had filed an unfair labor charge with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board earlier that day.

The WTA claims that the district “arbitrarily and unilaterally stopped paying extra-duty stipends for extra duty work, as outlined in the current collective bargaining agreement,” which Hermann said was a “clear violation” of their contract. According to statement from the WTA, the current contract between the WTA and the district provides stipends for teachers serving as class advisors in grades 7-12, which they say haven’t been paid for the 2017-18 school year.

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net