In the Spirit of Collaboration
By Kendra Koeppen-Mulwana, KEA Executive Director
Despite what has been a tense relationship over the years, KEA has always been committed to building a more meaningful and collaborative relationship with KUSD for the sake of Kenosha students and educators. Over the summer, KEA President Tanya Kitts-Lewinski was inspired to compose a letter to Superintendent Savaglio-Jarvis and the School Board after attending a workshop titled “Collaboration Between Teacher Unions and School Districts.” In her letter, she offers several suggestions for how KEA and KUSD can collaborate and build more trust.
View the original letter from the KEA President and the Superintendent’s response here.
Her suggestions included a set day and time for monthly meet and confer meetings; a release-time agreement for the union president; removing unnecessary and unproductive barriers that limit KEA’s building access; advocacy for a better budget at the state level; reinstating a hardship pool; and joint professional development opportunities for admin and staff.
Despite what KEA viewed as reasonable suggestions based on what is commonly practiced in other districts across the state, the Superintendent rejected all of them with the exception of advocating for a better budget, providing a litany of excuses as to why they could not be done.
Two of the most concerning responses were around meet and confer and a release-time agreement. Monthly meet and confer meetings allow educators to voice how district decisions are impacting them in the classroom and provides an opportunity to discuss non-emergency issues and solutions. Despite the benefit of regularly set meetings, the Superintendent stated she prefers the current schedule of meeting three times a year, and encouraged KEA to direct any and all staff with problems or concerns to her directly.
This doesn’t speak to a spirit of joint leadership and certainly doesn’t allow for the same amount of transparency as open meet and confer sessions. It is also unreasonable to expect that staff will be comfortable meeting alone with their boss’s boss to air a concern. Not only is it problematic to suggest one person handle all of those concerns in the third largest district in the state, but this approach encourages division, isolation, and centralizes control to the Superintendent’s office.
With a full-time release agreement for the KEA president, Tanya would be able to share the responsibility of soliciting input from staff and hearing their concerns. In previous years, there was a full-time release contract, but it ended after Act 10 despite many other districts maintaining theirs, including Racine, Milwaukee, Madison, and Green Bay. The Superintendent stated that KUSD cannot defend a decision to use taxpayer dollars to provide such a paid leave for KEA activities that takes Tanya away from her students during the school day. While the response seems reasonable, it is disrespectful and insulting to insinuate that the work of a union president is a waste of tax-payer dollars and does not serve the best interest of students. The Superintendent’s response makes it clear that she does not have a true understanding of KEA’s core values, or at the very least, speaks to her fear of the impact KEA could have if given the time and manpower to solicit input from educators on a regular basis.
In her conclusion, the Superintendent states that she believes “we are uniting for the greater good of KUSD, our students, staff and families.” The majority of responses, however, don’t support that conclusion. Reading between the lines, her response ultimately speaks to her lack of respect for KEA and her belief that the work and resources we have are not valuable to the district. KEA is a professional association made up of Kenosha educators; our only goal is to serve and represent the interest of ALL staff and students. If you don’t find KEA valuable, you don’t value the needs and voices of educators and students.
There is too much work to be done and too many students that are counting on us to not explore all of the ways we can work more collaboratively. The Superintendent’s response is an unacceptable one, and she will have to take more steps to show that her desire to unite for the greater good is not simply lip-service.