Eagle County Schools, teacher’s union reach agreement to give time back to teachers
The agreement will face a vote of both the union and the school board
In a negotiations meeting between Eagle County Schools and the Eagle County Education Association on Wednesday, members of the negotiations team voted to move forward with a proposed change to the collective bargaining agreement, designed to give time back to teachers.
This change comes as the district faces staffing shortages across its organization. At Wednesday’s meeting, Superintendent Philip Qualman said that this labor shortage was affecting many other school districts, both statewide and nationwide.
Currently, the district has 67 unfilled positions. Of those, Qualman said 8 or 9 are in food service, 8 or 9 are in transportation, and 16 are unfilled positions for paraprofessionals in its pre-K program. Within the pre-K program, because of these vacancies, the district hasn’t been able to get all its classrooms to capacity.
“It’s affecting everybody in the organization that we’re burning the candle at both ends,” Qualman said.
On top of staffing challenges, the district hasn’t had enough guest teachers to fill vacancies — both those from unfilled positions as well as regular absences.
The district currently has about 120 guest teachers on its list, but only about 20 are actively filling positions. Qualman said the fill rate for guest teachers — or the percentage of teacher absences being filled by a substitute — has been around 30% to 35% in recent weeks. He said the rate typically is closer to 60%.
With the current situation, many teachers have had to step up, many of them giving up their professional development time to do so.
“I also know teachers are pleasers and want to do the right thing and I know that we’re swimming and need a breath of air,” said Katherine Leibig, a teacher at Edwards Elementary and a member of the negotiations team for the Eagle County Education Association.
The negotiation team’s proposed change sought to address some of these challenges, amending a line in the collective bargaining agreement which stipulates that “all teachers will participate in a minimum of 75-minutes per week of collaborative professional learning [or PLC] time as staff development, which does not include department meetings or staff meetings.”
“In normal times, the more PLC or PD [professional development] time, the better,” said Doug Little, a teacher at Eagle Valley Elementary and a member of the negotiations team for the Eagle County Education Association. “But I think going forward, for this year, to me it looks like we can cut back, not get rid of all together, but we can definitely cut back to alleviate some of the stress on our teachers, because a lot of teachers are not getting their plan time during the week. They’re so overburdened with everything that’s going on in our community and in our schools and society all together.”
Qualman said that across the district, principals expressed “uniform resistance” to giving up PLC time completely. Rather than making a blanket change, he suggested that, for this school year only, it would be up to principal discretion to re-allocate PLC time back to staff for planning time as appropriate for their school. He said this would address principal concerns for those that didn’t want to see it go or couldn’t afford to let it go.
However, advocates for the teacher’s union — which included Little and Leibig from the Eagle County Education Association and Eric Hansen from the Colorado Education Association Ski County office — felt that this might not necessarily have the intended affect at all schools.
“I love that we have a lot of autonomy in this district and that principals and their staffs can work together to do what’s best for their own location, but at the same time, that creates a discrepancy between what’s happening between one school and another school,” Little said. “Individual local autonomy? Great, because schools can do some pretty cool things on their own, but a little bit more direction would go a long way toward building relationships, toward setting the tone to developing that trust.”
This team wanted “guard rails” in the amendment to ensure that the change had the intended impact and that time was actually going back to teachers.
Both Amy Vanwel, principal of Berry Creek Middle, and Mitch Forsberg, principal at Gypsum Elementary, worried about micromanaging this PLC time as many schools were already utilizing this time to the teacher’s benefit and for teacher planning.
“I’m frustrated that there’s this assumption that I didn’t already structure my PLC that way to give those teachers back that time,” Vanwel said.
Ultimately, the group landed on a proposed amendment that would make sure all schools will give back time for educators and not micromanage PLC time and principals. It also adds an element of collaboration between the teacher’s union reps and principals, staff at each building to determine what’s best for that school.
The proposed change reads: “For SY 21-22 schools, in collaboration with Eagle County Education Association (ECEA) representation, will create a plan to increase individual plan time for educators to complete their job duties. This may reduce the expectation of 75 minutes of weekly PLC time. Adjustments will be submitted to district leaders and the ECEA Executive team for review at their October meeting.”
Following the meeting, the teacher’s union will need to vote to ratify the proposed change and it also faces a vote of the district’s Board of Education next Wednesday, Sept. 22, before the change goes into effect.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.