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  • Asheville Citizen-Times

    Asheville school board chair backs historic change: pay, staffing, power for teachers

    By Joel Burgess, Asheville Citizen Times,

    2024-06-12
    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0GcZ77_0tof87tA00

    ASHEVILLE - The city schools board chair said June 11 that he stands behind a historic proposal that would give teachers more power in decisions over salaries, staffing levels and the budget in what would be a potential first for North Carolina.

    Chair George Sieburg's support for a new policy committee follows a tumultuous period for Asheville City Schools that saw the highest teacher turnover in a state suffering a widespread teacher shortage. The period also included the tripling of membership in the Asheville City Association of Educators, making it the first North Carolina teachers' association to represent more than 50% of school staff, according to ACAE organizers. ACAE refers to itself as a union, despite long-time state anti-union laws that block public sector workers from key powers of collective bargaining and striking.

    "These are folks who are working in our buildings every day. They're working with our students, and they really have a lot of insight into what's happening, and they should be part of finding some really good solutions for whatever challenges we're facing," Sieburg told the Citizen Times. "So, in that respect, I really like that concept."

    Also voicing support for what ACAE calls a "Meet, Confer, Collaborate" policy was school board member Liza Kelly, who during a June 10 board meeting asked that the committee idea be added to a "theory of action" plan presented by Superintendent Maggie Fehrman.

    "I would like to see that included in some portion of this as a commitment to our staff," she said.

    The meeting followed a rally of about 30 ACAE members outside the district central office calling for creation of the new committee.

    Board member Amy Ray also offered a measure of support, telling the Citizen Times June 11 she fully backs "a close working relationship" with ACAE.

    "We will have to negotiate exactly what a meet-and-confer process or policy will include," Ray said.

    Board members Sarah Thornburg, Rebecca Strimer and James Carter did not respond to requests for comment. Board member Jesse Warren declined to comment, saying he wanted to learn more about the idea.

    What teachers want

    The change presented by the teachers would create a committee of up to 10 members with an even number of association members as well as members appointed by the superintendent. Co-chairs would oversee monthly meetings on policies covering pay, professional development, staffing levels, workload, personnel policies, the budget, student learning, classroom conditions and more.

    The superintendent would provide the committee with budget numbers, student data and other information within five days of requests and policy recommendations would advance with a majority vote to the school board for final decisions. It would be the first such committee in the state, according to local and state teacher association officials. A similar committee exists in Alabama, ACAE President Tim Lloyd said.

    Fehrman agreed to recognize the ACAE as an employee representative organization, they said. But ACAE members said Fehrman in a meeting with them rejected many components, such as the makeup of the committee, how it would advance recommendations and how quickly she would respond to requests for information.

    Responding to the Citizen Times, the superintendent said the positions she took were part of a negotiation.

    "I am eager to work alongside ACEA and identify ways to support all our staff. The response I provided ACAE leaders is the initial step in that work," she said.

    Fehrman said there already is an Educator Advisory Council that she meets with monthly for feedback and also noted that there are many staff that are not association members.

    "As the superintendent, I need to ensure that policies and procedures are equitable and supportive for every staff member regardless of their affiliation with an organization," she said.

    Speakers at the rally noted pressures teachers faced, such as state money given to private schools in the form of vouchers − rather than to public schools − the high cost of living and local decisions to close schools such as the district's Montford North Star Academy. A majority of the district's parent-teacher organizations, or PTOs, supported the committee as a way to deal with these issues, supporters said. Incoming Claxton Elementary PTO Co-President Carolyn Small said the change would lead to "better outcomes."

    "Asheville City Schools employees belong at the center of decision-making about whether the very real challenges facing our district," she said.

    Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at jburgess@citizentimes.com, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

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