Steamboat schools bargaining team considers parenting leave policy | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat schools bargaining team considers parenting leave policy

Teresa Ristow

— Three hours into their first negotiation session of the 2014-15 season, Collaborative Bargaining Team members for the Steamboat Springs School District were addressing whether the district should create its own parenting leave policy.

The all day bargaining session Tuesday at the Steamboat Springs School District office marked the first time negotiations in the district have been open to the public.

The Steamboat Springs School Board voted in October to make the negotiations open, anticipating the passing of Proposition 104, which makes the meetings public statewide next month.

CBT members talked during the meeting about separating out parenting leave from an existing short-term leave policy that is used for parenting and other types of leave, including “once-in-a-lifetime” leave for situations like taking your child to the Olympics or an important family vacation.

The parenting leave policy would apply to parents interested in taking off more time than federal regulations already allow.

Under the United States Department of Labor's Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees are guaranteed 12 workweeks of unpaid, benefited leave within a 12-month period because of the birth of a child or for the care of a newborn. They receive job security, with a guarantee that they'll return to the same or an equivalent position.

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Current practice allows school district employees to request short-term leave in addition to the FMLA time, though there isn't a specific policy that addresses such cases.

While FMLA allows 12 weeks for both a mother and father, if they are employed by the same school district, only 12 weeks total for both parents to use is allowed.

"It's a struggle to craft something that is going to apply to all situations," Superintendent Brad Meeks said. "The amount of leave needed is different in each situation — some dads want time off and some dads don't."

Currently requests from new parents seeking time off in addition to what's provided by FMLA are handled on a case-by-case basis by administration.

When discussing options for amending the policy, CBT members on Tuesday suggested a variety of options, including as many as two years of job security for new parents, suggested by Steamboat Springs Education Association President Carol Harris.

When one teacher questioned whether parental care was a large enough issue for the CBT to be spending time on, Harris said she thought it was.

"I don't think parental care is a small issue," said Harris, a kindergarten teacher. "I think it's huge. It's not going to go away."

There are about 10 to 12 district employees who will be new parents this year so far, according to Director of Human Resources Katie Jacobs.

Jacobs said the number was high for the year, and the group agreed that on average, there were about five to 12 new parents per year.

More than three hours into the discussion about short-term leave and parenting leave, administrators said that while they like to grant leave to employees having children or experiencing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, finding temporary replacements is challenging.

"Some positions are easier to fill than others," Meeks said. "It's tough. It's not easy. It's going to be tough to craft a policy that takes in all those dynamics."

School district facilitator Larry Nisbet commended the group for its work Tuesday on difficult policy topics.

"It's not easy, but I applaud your efforts to try to answer these questions," Nisbet said.

The group was unable to come to a consensus about whether to create a parenting leave policy and what it would include, tabling the discussion for another meeting.

After about 6 1/2 hours of discussions, the group was asked by facilitators to reflect on the first day of bargaining.

"I think we made some progress, even though it was slow," said Kim Waldschmidt, a first grade teacher at Soda Creek Elementary School.

As part of the regular CBT process, the group discussed together what information about the Tuesday meeting they wanted to report out to district staff.

While Jacobs said she usually includes only which policies are discussed, not tentative changes, the group agreed that with meetings now public, staff probably would hear from the media about policy changes regardless, so CBT decided to include changes.

The team then discussed potential agenda items for their next meeting, Feb. 4, at the district office.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

Collaborative vs. Collective

The Steamboat Springs School District uses “collaborative” bargaining methods, rather than “collective” bargaining employed by some districts.

Rather than a formal master agreement in place that you would find in a traditional collective bargaining setting, the district works on a series of negotiated policies and then a defined salary schedule, according to Superintendent Brad Meeks.

The process is generally considered more cooperative than collective bargaining.

According to the Collaborative Bargaining Team handbook, representatives from teaching, administration and support staff were first trained in the collaborative bargaining process by a facilitator in 1994.

The first agreement reached using the new process was presented to Steamboat Springs School District staff for ratification in 1995.