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PAEA leadership: it's not our fault

Original post made by Post your opinion, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 21, 2015

Email from the PAEA executive board, you decide:

Dear PAEA members,

In light of the recent article in the Palo Alto Weekly, we would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight about the grievance that PAEA filed against the Gunn principal.

We realize this issue may have made your job more difficult, as misconceptions and misinformation persist, and certain members of the community use the controversy to criticize teachers without knowing all the facts. For this, we apologize. Our intent in filing the grievance was simple: to protect our members from actions that violate our contract with the district.

Here are the facts of the matter.

Our current contract requires secondary teachers to post class materials, test dates, etc. online for the benefit of students. Although most teachers use Schoology, the contract does not require it. Some opt for their own web sites or other electronic means.

During the fall semester, PAEA had several discussions with Gunn Principal Denise Herrmann about her attempts to require teachers to use Schoology. We offered solutions that would meet the needs of students and parents, some of which went beyond the mandates of our contract. Our intent was to keep the dialogue open, yet in October, Herrmann sent a letter to Gunn parents, saying that while she can’t force teachers to use Schoology, she was “challenging” them to use it.

This action had two consequences. 1) It publicly made teachers look bad if they didn’t use Schoology and 2) it made public an issue that was being actively negotiated by PAEA and the district during ongoing bargaining talks. In characterizing the issue the way she did, Herrmann violated accepted bargaining practice. As a district representative, her actions influenced a sensitive bargaining issue and caused our talks to stall.

Dr. Herrmann also issued another directive to teachers to use Schoology exclusively after the letter to the parents and our many conversations. This action is what brought forth our grievance.

Much has been made about the timing of the grievance filing and how it happened shortly after one of the Gunn suicides. Please know PAEA had no option here. Under our contract, grievances must be filed in a timely manner. Our grievance was filed 2 days before the required deadline, as PAEA was still trying to work things out with Herrmann before filing a grievance.

Again, we regret any complications this may have caused you at work, and we were very unhappy by the unfair portrayal in the Palo Alto Weekly, as well as the stinging, hurtful comments made about teachers on the message boards.

While this is the first grievance PAEA has filed in 11 years, we do take our responsibility to protect teachers seriously. If we don’t protect our contract, why bother having one? We would ask you how you would feel if you were personally impacted by a decision that violated something that was mutually agreed upon in our contract, and the majority of the membership didn’t support you in a grievance. Union values call for collective action and support, which sometimes means we may not agree when a grievance is filed, but we must support the right of the union or an individual to do so. An injury to one is an injury to all.

We hope this clears things up. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or concerns.

Executive Board, Palo Alto Education Association

Comments (20)

Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 8:27 pm

Reason is a registered user.

PAEA Exec Board writes: "Although most teachers use Schoology, the contract does not require it. ... During the fall semester, PAEA had several discussions with Gunn Principal Denise Herrmann about her attempts to require teachers to use Schoology. "


Right - the reason Dr. Herrmann is trying to require teachers to use ONE system is because that is what is best for the students. Having to go to multiple sites makes the calendar feature useless. It is also overly complicated, and frankly many custom web sites were not really delivering all the homework info needed. Dr. Herrmann was trying to create a better student environment. It seems the students needs are often forgotten by the PAEA board.

You see, Dr. Herrmann should be able to manage the teachers in the school by deciding a choice of tool to use. (and it was a tool vetted by teachers) The Board passes a general policy that is open to interpretation ("online system") so that the district can choose better tools in the future should they become available. But that does not mean that every teacher gets to choose how to implement policy.

It is important that the schools act as a system for the best interest of students. In this matter PAEA has not only failed the best interest of the students, they have now tried to smear Dr. Herrmann with this memo.

It is appalling.


Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 8:32 pm

Reason is a registered user.

...This is one of the main problems we have as voters examining Measure A: we are not really voting to support a system driven from the Board ->Super -> Principal ->Teachers which operates in the best interest of the students.

The PAEA can insert itself into any aspect of managing the school, bypassing parent and voter authority.

It is not a managed system. It is a collective of teachers who do whatever they want. Here is proof.


No on Measure A.


Posted by PAEAbehindTheCurtains
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 21, 2015 at 8:40 pm

'We're sorry the Principal tried to manage you, and we're sorry we keep getting caught left footed on the side of what's worst for students. We're sorry the public isn't buying the parent-blaming story for student stress, and we're sorry that we might have to ratchet down student pressure and intimidation...but don't worry - we can return to business as usual after the ballot passes. Even if there are more suicides, hospitalizations and stress.'

No on Measure A


Posted by yeah right
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 21, 2015 at 8:43 pm

Sounds like it was, in fact PAEA's fault for being so unyielding, rather than simplifying the process of getting assignments for students and parents alike.


Posted by HR
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 21, 2015 at 9:16 pm

"to protect our members from actions that violate our contract with the district."

Everyone hates attorneys until you need one. May be right, may be wrong. Thats's why contracts exist. Why even publish something written for union members only? "Dear PAEA members" Is that public record as well? Was this letter verified before publishing and was permission granted to make it public? Maybe its not in the contract?


Posted by PAEAbehindTheCurtain
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 21, 2015 at 9:39 pm

PAEA - "This action had two consequences. 1) It publicly made teachers look bad if they didn't use Schoology "


Maybe they looked bad because they actually looked like they weren't supporting students.

Dr Herrmanns letter didn't expose them any more than their own behavior. This letter is not really an apology, but more of a smear campaign the PAEA exec board is doing against Dr Herrmann.


Posted by Union Maid
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2015 at 9:51 pm

"Our current contract requires secondary teachers to post class materials, test dates, etc. online for the benefit of students. Although most teachers use Schoology, the contract does not require it. Some opt for their own web sites or other electronic means."

This is completely false. The current contract does not say which tool will be used because the selection of the IT tool is entirely within the ordinary management control of the district. The Rodda Act clearly provides that this is not a bargainable issue.

The union is trying to force the district to bargain over a non-bargainable issue, and Scott Bowers is such a tool that he is letting them. This is a joke.

Also, notice what she doesn't mention, which is the DEATH OF A GUNN STUDENT BY SUICIDE JUST DAYS BEFORE THE GRIEVANCE.

PAEA, vote Terri Baldwin out of office. Her leadership is doing real damage to you. She is a bad union leader.



Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 21, 2015 at 10:00 pm


"Much has been made about the timing of the grievance filing and how it happened shortly after one of the Gunn suicides. Please know PAEA had no option here. Under our contract, grievances must be filed in a timely manner."

What about human decency. Are you stone cold?


Posted by Union Maid
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2015 at 10:25 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 22, 2015 at 12:39 am

Tha calendar waits for no one.


Posted by Yay
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 22, 2015 at 1:24 am

I'm so glad to hear from PAEA directly and understand their side of the story.

Now I can VOTE NO on Measure A without a second thought!

>> "Much has been made about the timing of the grievance filing and how it happened shortly after one of the Gunn suicides. Please know PAEA had no option here. Under our contract, ... Our grievance was filed 2 days before the required deadline, as PAEA was still trying to work things out with Herrmann before filing a grievance."

Thank you for acknowledging that you filed TWO DAYS before the deadline, because clearly the priority was your "grievance," and not those who were truly grieving from "one of the Gunn Suicides." If you were really working hard to "work things out" with Dr. Herrmann you would have filed two HOURS before the deadline, not two days.

I wonder how many teachers in this country have to preface the term, "suicide," with "One of" within the same year?

PAEA is a real piece of work that needs to be dismantled. Can we hire non-union teachers and get rid of PAEA? I would love to turn this district into an innovative, free market teaching environment - I bet the quality of teachers would go up significantly! And we could hire all of the wonderful teachers we already have, and dump the bad ones without PAEA interference.

VOTE NO ON MEASURE A! Demand accountability and caring for our kids!!!!


Posted by Union strong
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 22, 2015 at 7:47 am

It's not a surprise here in the heart of libertarian Silicon Valley to not find much support for a union, but it's worth pointing out that unions exist for a reason. They represent the collective voice of employees who would/could otherwise be exploited and mistreated by management. They used to be the central backbone of the middle class in this country, which has been gutted in a slow strangulation beginning in the Reagan era. They were even important here in Palo Alto, helping to build a foundation of solid middle-class stability that allowed this region to flourish. But there is NO more affordable housing for middle class workers in Palo Alto. None. They have to commute from further and further away. This includes the teachers, who simply cannot come close to affording to live in the same community they serve.

You could opt for a system in which teachers are not unionized, and you could easily end up with a bunch of little administrative fiefdoms run by principals who rule by whim and whimsy with no checks or balances to their power. (Some people on this forum might argue that this is what we have now - but the grievance against the Gunn principal, *who knew exactly what she was doing,* is an example of a check to unlimited administrative power.) It happens in private schools all the time, including some of our elite local ones where highly regarded teachers have been run out of long-held positions by administrators with checkered histories and/or blatantly political motives. If you want a situation where a bad principal can fire an excellent teacher with twenty years of experience because she didn't like his shoes, and then hire her sister's kid straight out of ed school to teach your child AP English, then go ahead and gut the union. Good luck dealing with the principal then if you happen to get on his/her bad side.

A lot of people here scream bloody murder about the mis-management of administrative functions in this district. Imagine how much worse it could possibly be if there were no union to check the power of the admins. You think it's tough? You're free to go to a private school (don't forget they don't have to admit your kid with a 504/IEP, ADHD, etc., if "it's not a good fit") and see what happens when your kid runs afoul of the wrong admin - boom, they're out, and maybe if you're lucky they will pro-rate your $40K tuition depending on how far into the year you are. You then have no recourse.

The biggest problem with this whole debacle (and with this particular forum) is that people are incapable of rational argument and debate about this issue, because as soon as someone tries to make a wider point about contracts, legality, the importance of unions, etc., they are immediately condemned as a callous child-hating monster. But that emotional response does nothing to actually resolve the problem. And it completely and totally misses the point. But it sure feels good to get that emotional lashing out, and the "x-number of people like this" tally proves your point, so of course that other person clearly IS a callous child-hating monster. After all, 18 people like this, right?

Contracts exist for a reason. The Gunn principal knew exactly what she was doing. It seems to have worked, at least here.


Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2015 at 8:25 am

My Thoughts is a registered user.

I never had much problem with the Union, until they showed themselves to be negotiating AGAINST the best interest of our children.

For example - why is the opposition to Schoology even in the contract?

Our kids are really struggling to get a clear organized view of the s**t-ton of homework every day. Many teachers will not write down the homework on a piece of paper, some don't even bother to write it on the whiteboard. We had a teacher refuse to tell the kids a due date.

It was obvious long ago that some unified calendar-based system was needed to manage the GIANT S**T-ton PILE OF HOMEWORK that teachers created.

Get it? The teachers created this problem:

1) TOO MUCH HOMEWORK
2) NO ORGANIZATION IN THE CLASSROOMS

To follow this with a collective bargaining agreement opposing a tool that might solve the very problem YOU created is just evil.

Is your motivation to make school impossible? Why? Why make a huge problem, then negotiate against the solution? Do you understand that this demotivates kids, and REALLY ratchets up the stress level when they have a huge amount of work they cannot get organized.

When the Union shows collective interest in making our childrens life unbearable, then yes, you are going to get some blow-back.

Never had much problem with the Union. Until they opposed the well-being of our kids. Glad I can see the issues now.

We need to change this system and put the management of schools back under the control of voters.

#RightNow


Posted by Private Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 22, 2015 at 8:53 am

This is really rich.

"1) It publicly made teachers look bad if they didn't use Schoology"

It looks bad because it _is_ bad. If you don't want to look bad, don't do things that make you look bad. The recalcitrance here is pathetic.


"2) it made public an issue that was being actively negotiated by PAEA and the district during ongoing bargaining talks."

I totally support Ms. Herriman's attempt at more transparency in the negotiations with PAEA. Hopefully she puts everything out there in the next go around too.

If PAEA can't handle transparency in their negotiations over these issues, then that says a lot about them and their positions. Is PAEA really so afraid that they will lose popular support?

"In characterizing the issue the way she did, Herrmann violated accepted bargaining practice."

translated out of newspeak:

"Transparency is very bad for our negotiations."


Posted by A parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2015 at 9:31 am

"NO ORGANIZATION IN THE CLASSROOMS"

Yes, I always found it ironic that the teachers constantly harp on the kids to be organized to take up the slack for the teachers' disorganization. Except the kids don't have fully developed executive function and they are made to feel like utter irrecoverable failures for it, and the teachers would be better teachers if they figured out how to teach without giving so much homework.

Can someone from the PAEA verify the OP? I agree with my thoughts, I didn't have any problem with the union until this post. Perhaps it was made by someone else to make the union seem clueless, callous, and glib .


Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2015 at 1:30 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

I suspect @Union Strong would have denied this posting vigorously if it were fabrication. Alas, it does not appear to be.

What you see is what you get. Sadly.


Posted by Jeanie Smith
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 22, 2015 at 1:51 pm

I'm a teacher in Palo Alto, and have been for 16 years. I know all these people, all the "players" in this scenario. They're just people, doing their best to do their jobs in an appropriate manner-- Dr. Herrmann and Union folk alike-- no hidden agendas, just a road bump in the annual negotiations. Some of the comments in this forum are so negative and damning as if we have a world-level conspiracy going on here. So ludicrous, and not in the least helpful. I suspect the fact that no one puts their name to anything allows them to rant and condemn and make spurious claims. So many inaccurate and false statements, I can't even begin to correct them.

I once told a colleague that I was depressed after reading the forum comments on an article in paloaltoonline, and he said, "Oh don't read those-- you'll lose all faith in humanity."

P.S. I live in Palo Alto. I'm your neighbor. I own property and I'm voting Yes on Measure A because OUR AWESOME SCHOOL DISTRICT keeps our property values high.


Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 22, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2015 at 6:25 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@Jeanie Smith: "They're just people, doing their best to do their jobs in an appropriate manner"

Really? Have you met all the teachers in the district?

Do you know the teachers who bullied my kids? Do you know the Principal who stood behind them and refused to do anything about it?

I doubt it. Assuming they are all good actors because you know a few of them is an inferential failure. They are out there, and they are un-managed. Probably because the Union stands up for a few bad-apples, as we see in the Schoology battle.

Mostly because the Board has followed a site-based strategy for years, allowing unmanaged teacher problems to fester in sites with no fear of oversight, no expectations on moral treatment of children, and no enforcement of Board policy. The Board abdicated years ago, and to expect a collective of unmanaged teachers to somehow "get it" is just absurd. The site-based experiment is coming to an end. We all can see that it was a complete failure.

Oh, and these "bad apples" have chosen to take a tax haircut for you. They made the mess, so they cannot be surprised when voters reject Measure A.

No on Measure A


Posted by Be Kind PA
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 22, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Be Kind PA is a registered user.

Hi Jeanie,

I understand your point of view and appreciate you putting yourself out there to try and calm everyone down. I do wonder what your thoughts are about Schoology? Do you understand and agree with teachers who refuse to use it and with the union for filing the grievance?

I have no ill intent here, I just wonder what your thoughts are since you feel everyone is doing their best and there are no hidden agendas.


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