Despite weeks of negotiations, representatives of D. C. Parent Teacher Associations said last week parents still don't understand what issues are keeping the Washington Teachers Union and the second board from reaching a contract settlement.
Many of the parents who met last Saturday at Logan Community School, 3rd and G streets NE, to discuss contract proposals said they also are confused about the reasons behind the threatened teachers strike in October.
"The board seems to be tightening up," one parent said after the meeting, "but I can't say that they're tightening up on this or that or if it is going to improve the schools. The union seems to be fighting the board, and they both claim they have the interest of the children at heart."
The parents, several of whom are PTA presidents, met with union and board representatives at the workshop sponsored by the D.C. Congress of Parents and Teachers and the D.C. Citizens for Better Public Education. The workshop focused on the issues and procedures in the contract negotiations.
The workshop was designed to help parents understand what is taking place as negotiations between the board and the teachers' union continue.
Most of the parents, however, said they believe a strike is yet to come. The presidents of the local PTAs criticized the school board for not making their contract goals known to parents.
"The issues seem to me to be quite muddy," said Willie Littlejohn, president of the John Burroughs Elementary PTA, 18th and Monroe streets NE. "I can't find a pure issue . . . The board, for instance, wants the longer (work) day (for teachers), but what are they going to do with it?"
Other parents said they were not sure a longer work day was needed.
"Parents really have no idea what is going on," said Nevzer Stacey, president of the Murch Elementary PTA, 36th and Ellicott streets NW. "The rationale should be that it (a longer work day) would improve the education for our children, but no studies have shown that. I think what's needed in District schools is a smaller ratio of students to teachers. Maybe the board is fighting for the wrong issue."
Carol Schwatz, Ward 3 school board member, has proposed matching the longer work day with a longer school day for students. The result would be an extra hour of instructional time. The proposal is being studied by a school board committee.
Ed Johnson, a member of the school board negotiating team, told the parents the extra hour of work could be used by teacher for parent-teacher conferences, after school activities and tutoring. He said, however, the board has no definite plan for using the time.
Johnson and Lynwood Williamson, a member of the teachers' union negotiating team, identified the top issues expected to be discussed by the union and board in coming months: a longer work day, a longer work year and a new grievance procedure.
According to school board proposals, teachers would work seven hours a day plus one hour for lunch, instead of the present six hours a day plus one hour for lunch. The teachers' year would be extended from 186 days to 220 days, under board proposals, and grievances against administrators by teachers would be limited to violations of the contract. Teachers now can begin grievance procedures against an administrator on the basis of any complaint.
Williamson, the union representative at the workshop Saturday, said hewas there because PTAs have tended to support the school board without giving teachers a fair hearing.
"I just want them to know that we are not the big bad animal they might think we are," Williamson said.
Parents frequently asked Williamson if contract proposals included any item that would make teachers accountable for the low scores of D.C. students on national tests. Williamson told them he didn't think it could be included in contract negotiations.
One parent, who heard Williamson argue that it was not fair to compare the D.C. teachers' salaries with the lower salaries of teachers in area suburban districts, said "I don't know about your salaires, but it is easy enough to compare our test scores with their (test scores). We're on the bottom there."
Deloris McCarter, presidentof the D. C. Congress of parents and Teachers, said the session was held because parents want to know what could cause negotiations to break down.
"Over the years," McCarter said, "parents have felt that the union has been asking for too much, and as a result, the teachers have become too powerful, and they aren't as committed. But now (the parents) are becoming more sophisticated, and they want to know exactly what the board wants from the union. What will the board's proposal mean if we get them?"
At the workshop, the D.C. Citizens for Better Public Education gave parents questionaires to complete on proposals being considered by the union and the school board. The group plans to issue a statement of the parents' views on the proposals after responses to the questionaires are received.
"I'd say everyone is convinced there is going to be a strike," said Robert Boyd, president of the citizens group. "And the people here want to prepare themselves for it as best as possible."
The workshop ended with a talk by Crystal Kuykendall, director of constituent services for the National School Board Association.
Kuykendall said parents should organize into a single, cohesive force and make their feelings about contract proposals known.
"You can be a power to be reckoned with in this city," she said, "Analyze the contract proposals, and if they have a detrimental effect on your kids then make it known that they better be changed. Try to understand the position that both sides are taking, but remember that as a parent your side is with the children."