Bucking the Southern Oregon trend, Medford teachers ended their 11 day strike strong. Portland teachers got within two days of a strike and got a fair deal according to leaked details. What are some of the lessons to learn this February 2014?
1.) District consultants often don’t know or don’t care what they’re doing, no matter how expensive they are.
The Medford school district hired lawyer Kelly Noor, and allegedly this was her first education contract bargain, and possibly first labor bargain. Psst: it didn’t go well. BONUS: Noor is rumored to be assisting the Eugene school district in its upcoming bargain with Eugene teachers. Better luck with the second bargain! BONUS BONUS: Noor is from the same law firm as Paul Dakopolos, whose first bargain was the five-day Reynolds strike in 2012 where the employees essentially prevailed. If you’re a school district hiring from the Garrett Hemann Robertson law firm featuring Bruce Zagar, hold on to your receipt!
Yvonne Deckard, a personal friend of the Portland superintendent who got an extravagant $15,000/month no-bid contract for lousy work with little accounting for her time, dragged the Portland bargain on and on to her benefit. “What’s that, Portland? I can’t hear you over the sound of my swelling bank account!”
2.) Strategy that looks good in PowerPoint may fail in real life.
Austerity measures aren’t working nowadays in Oregon districts. Thinking teachers will accept any-old-proposal because there’s a perceived recession won’t work, especially when you’re obnoxious about it. The Portland school district had 78 contract rollbacks in its proposal. Medford came to the table with 118. They were excited. Both escalated the bargains at every possible step except for the strike votes taken by teachers. Consultants clapped their hands: This is gonna be great! Teachers will be glad to just have jobs and you can make them crawl! Board members and superintendents nod their heads and smirk: This will work! This slide on the screen written by a mediocre law firm says it will work! That’s, like, as solid as a mathematical proof! People can’t just put anything into a PowerPoint, right? There’s a vetting process, right? Awesome!
3.) If your job is representing the public, don’t hide from the public.
The Portland school board refused to participate in bargaining. Or, maybe, they paid money to be told to not participate by Deckard and went “Fine by me! What could go wrong with public school board members elected by the public refusing to represent the public interest at the public school district bargaining table?” (Add more uses of “public” in that sentence if you want.)
Not only did Portland school board member Greg Belisle allegedly take a stash of 100 pink flamingos, installed on his lawn by a business as a prank, to the dump. Belisle also setup an auto-reply to emails from the public that if they were emailing him about bargaining, he would put those messages in the trash, too!
The Medford school board canceled public meetings with the strike. Then they stopped taking phone calls and emails from the public. To its credit, though, the Medford school board did have some members on the bargaining team. Complicating matters – the school board summarily voted to dismiss their longtime superintendent earlier this school year. Superintendent Phil Long soon after announced his retirement. But, as the strike rolled on, the fractious school board with a newbie lawyer needed the superintendent to get them a deal. Awkward!
Happily for Long, this gave him an opportunity to have daily press conferences, sometimes more often than daily (surely reporters were thrilled by his persistent calls and his personal tours to schools that kept turning away parents at the door), and assemble an audition reel for whatever he wants to try to do next.