UPDATE: The school board took no reportable action after a second closed-session meeting on Thursday, Oct. 6, according to board President Heidi Emberling. The trustees will meet again in closed session on Thursday, Oct. 13, at 8 a.m. at the district office.
With only days left before the launch of full-day kindergarten in Palo Alto schools, the teachers union and school district are engaged in closed-door negotiations over unspecified resources requested by the union to implement the new program.
The school board met in a special closed-session meeting Tuesday morning and will meet again Friday to discuss the request from the teachers union. The district is set to roll out the full-day schedule this Monday at the district’s 12 elementary schools.
Teri Baldwin, president of the Palo Alto Educators Association, told the Weekly that the union filed a request to bargain in late May, almost immediately after the school board voted to move all elementary schools to a full kindergarten day, despite strong opposition from some teachers and parents.
"It's a change in working conditions and it’s also a change for students so we’re trying to basically do what’s best for our students and hopefully get some small-group instruction time in there,” Baldwin said, declining to provide more details about what specifically the union asked the district for.
Baldwin said that additional remediation the district provided as part of the move to the full day — a guaranteed 10 hours each week of instructional aide time and remediation funds for classrooms with more than 20 students — was insufficient for many schools that already had close to that amount of aide time.
Neither the union nor the school district publicly disclosed the union’s request. The Weekly learned of it last week from a school district source. No one would comment on what negotiations, if any, took place between May and now, nor what action the union might take if it cannot reach agreement with the district. An unfair labor practice complaint would typically be filed with the state Public Employment Relations Board.
Superintendent Max McGee declined to comment on the union's request, citing the confidentiality of contract negotiations. He and Associate Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers met with the union's negotiations team last Thursday, Sept. 29. Bowers also declined to comment.
Board President Heidi Emberling told the Weekly that she doesn’t see this as an "adversarial conversation" and that "whenever you make a change to a teacher's day, the teachers have a right to bargain the effects of that decision."
"With all change, issues come up and we just have to keep student outcomes in the forefront of our decision making and support our teachers as much as we can with any change," she added.
The district failed to notice this newspaper at least 24 hours in advance of the board's special meeting on Tuesday, which it is required to do by state law and board bylaw. McGee said Tuesday that this was a staff "oversight" and was "certainly not intentional."
The board will meet for a second closed-session meeting on impact bargaining this Friday, Oct. 7, at 8 a.m.
While Barron Park and Palo Verde elementary schools already offer a full day, the majority of Palo Alto’s elementary schools operate an "extended-day" model. Half of the kindergarten class stays for a longer day, until around 2 p.m., two days each week, allowing teachers to work with students in smaller groups on a regular basis.
In late May, the board approved full-day kindergarten in a 4-1 vote, with Trustee Camille Townsend dissenting. While the change had the backing of McGee, all 12 elementary-school principals and many teachers who already teach under the full-day model, several kindergarten teachers (including Baldwin, a longtime kindergarten teacher) and parents spoke out publicly against the decision.
While proponents say the extra time makes for a more balanced and enriching school day for both students and teachers, opponents worried about losing the small-group instruction time the district’s extended-day model allows for.
Baldwin, who said she was speaking as a kindergarten teacher and not union president, told the board on May 24 that as someone who has taught a half, full and extended day, she placed high value on the one-on-one time teachers get with students in the extended day.
The kindergarten think tank, a group of kindergarten teachers and administrators tasked with researching the full day and developing potential models for the district, "kept stressing that one of those non-negotiables was small group instruction," Baldwin told the board, "and that’s not on the table now."