Teachers pact not certain

The Jefferson Federation of Teachers could face an uphill battle tonight in its fight to convince the Jefferson Parish School Board to approve a new collective bargaining agreement.

Federation President Meladie Munch says she is optimistic, but Superintendent James Meza said that the draft agreement submitted to the board was never endorsed by his administration and is not acceptable based on the terms of negotiation between the two sides.

The district’s 3,300 educators have been working without a collective bargaining agreement since June, when five board members — Mark Jacobs, Michael Delesdernier, Larry Dale, Pat Tovrea and Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge — voted to let the deal expire. It had been in place since the mid-1970s.

After the vote, angry teachers shouted at Meza and the five dissenters and tried to prevent them from leaving the parking lot. Sheriff’s deputies were on hand, and the six left the scene without incident.

The board then began offering teachers individual one-year contracts, a move criticized by many as an attempt to edge out the union. A team from Meza’s administration also began negotiations with union representatives in an effort to reach a new agreement.

Munch said she felt the negotiations were largely finalized in December, with a few additional changes worked out in January and February.

So on March 26, Munch informed the board she was taking the contract to the teachers for ratification. More than 500 teachers voted to ratify the contract.

Board President Larry Dale, however, said that when he met with Munch prior to the vote, he made it clear that the current version was not satisfactory, but that he was willing to continue to work with her to move forward.

He said that the union was charged with coming up with an entirely new contract, and one that weighed everything against what is best for the students.

“That’s not what I got,” Dale said.

Sticking points include the decision-making authority of principals, policies to avoid litigation, and the ability of the district to lay off teachers who are being asked to move but can’t find a school that they want and that wants them, Dale said.

“What they are trying to shove through,” Dale said, is about 85 percent the same as the previous contract.

Munch said she is open to the board’s input and willing to make changes, but that members have not given her anything in writing spelling out what needs to be fixed.

“I don’t know what more can be done,” Munch said. “If they have other ideas, give them to us.”

Board member Delesdernier said he believes in teachers having a collective voice, but does not believe the union currently has the right priorities and doesn’t see a future role for a collective bargaining agreement.

According to Delesdernier, the union is using scare tactics to erroneously make the teachers believe they will “lose everything” if the contract is not approved.

Meza also said he doesn’t know if a collective bargaining agreement will have a role in the district’s future if the union doesn’t change its focus to what’s best for students.

“We are not a teacher welfare program; we are a child education service,” Delesdernier said.

Munch said that if the district does not want an agreement at all, then administrators shouldn’t have agreed to go through the negotiation process.

The teachers “deserve the dignity and respect of what they asked us to do, and what the board agreed to,” Munch said.

Board member Ray St. Pierre, one of the four who voted against letting the contract lapse last year, said that he — for one — plans to vote to approve the contract.

“Having been a teacher and a member of the JFT, it seems like we had a better relationship with the School Board and administration when someone was actually looking out for issues that affect working conditions,” said St. Pierre, who has served on the School Board for 15 years. “It’s just a standard thing — we had a good relationship with the JFT for a long time,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the district’s administration building, 501 Manhattan Blvd., in Harvey.