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Impasse declared over one item, TAC at ‘front of the line’ for mediator

The Teachers Association of Cloverdale (TAC) and the Cloverdale Unified School District (CUSD) have reached a hiccup in negotiations for the teachers association’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreement for hybrid learning. After not being able to agree on one item of the MOU, TAC declared that negotiations were at an impasse on Feb. 9. The impasse declaration does not impact school reopening.

“After months of negotiations and tons of giving and compromising, TAC and the district have a multi-page MOU that we have agreed to,” TAC president Renee DuVander said in an email to the Reveille. “We were nearly there, but couldn't come to an agreement on one last item. We hope that a mediator will help determine which wording is best for our hybrid MOU.”  

Neither negotiating party disclosed the specific item that they couldn’t reach an agreement on. CUSD Superintendent Betha MacClain said that, per protocol, neither TAC nor the district is supposed to discuss specifics about negotiations while they’re going on.

DuVander said that the one item has to do with the district’s safety plan and ensuring COVID-19 safety protocols that will be in place, as well as consequences for not following safety protocols. Contributing to the insistence that TAC be involved with the safety plan is that teachers seeking accommodation requests to work from home for health reasons have yet to be granted them — an issue that stems from the district needing further, more specific paperwork turned in to document and process the requests.

“TAC has the responsibility to ensure safety procedures are being followed,” DuVander said. “Without having a formal agreement with the district on these areas, it would be difficult to do so.”

MacClain said that such plans have been outlined in materials put out by the district in its initial reopening plans, and that they’re also part of the COVID-19 Safety Plan currently being put together by district site administrators. She said the district has given the teachers association everything related to what the COVID-19 Safety Plan involves, what the required district checklist and site-specific plans involve, as well as access to all of the district’s documentation. The Reveille has reached out to TAC to confirm that they’ve been given this information, and did not receive a response by press time.

“There has been an absolute good faith effort to make sure these things are done and a commitment that we’re not going to open until it’s done,” MacClain said.

“What I can say is that I totally understand and have communicated to TAC in negotiations that I completely understand why staff would want these nailed down,” she said. “We’ve developed a plan to make sure that there’s staff input and that every site has a committee that has staff from different stakeholder groups … so that the plan can be vetted through more than one set of eyes.”

While some people might think that an impasse means teachers are inching toward a strike, that isn’t the case. Declaring an impasse is the first step in dealing with negotiations when a union and an employer are unable to reach consensus. Once an impasse is declared, the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) assigns a mediator to help facilitate negotiations, with the goal of leading the two involved parties to reach an agreement.

A mediator was last called to help with district negotiations in May 2019, when the district was working on its regular bargaining agreement with teachers. With summer breaking up the negotiations process, an agreement was reached in September 2019.

While a mediator has yet to be assigned, DuVander said that TAC has been told that it’s “at the front of the line,” since Cloverdale is one of the few districts at this stage in the negotiations process for its MOU.

“We are hoping for a quick resolution with a mediator and look forward to being with students soon,” DuVander said.

Bringing in a mediator doesn’t indicate that there’s conflict between the district and the teachers association and it doesn’t mean that the two parties don’t agree with one another, MacClain said.

“To bring in a third party is an effort to try to get another person’s perspective and to help you get over that barrier, whatever it is,” she said. “I believe that TAC and the district want to move forward as collaborators and not opponents.”

While the impasse may extend the time it takes to get an MOU settled between TAC and the district, both DuVander and MacClain said that the impasse isn’t what’s preventing students from heading back on campus for part-time in-person instruction.

“There is only one thing we need to figure out — we’re really close to an agreement — and while an agreement isn’t required to open, we want staff to feel safe and we want staff to feel reassured,” MacClain said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed Safe Schools for All plan said that a signed bargaining agreement would be required as part of the reopening process, but the legislature took out the requirement, MacClain said. During TAC’s regular update at the Cloverdale school board meeting on Feb. 17, DuVander said that since the impasse pertains to only one item, she “feels confident that it will not hinder the reopening of schools once that option becomes available.”

“I know that our superintendent is in a difficult situation — being new to the district amidst a global pandemic with ever-changing guidelines, which is why TAC has tried to aid in the process by drafting MOUs and working towards collaborative solutions,” DuVander said in an email. “The safety of teachers, students and families is at the forefront of these plans. I hope that as the community rallies to support the opening of schools for in-person instruction that community leaders will aid in the collaborative process of ensuring we can open safely.”

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