‘Who is supporting us?’: Educators’ confidence shaken after board decision, impasse - Albuquerque Journal

‘Who is supporting us?’: Educators’ confidence shaken after board decision, impasse

Students board a school bus in front of Los Ranchos Elementary in March. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

At the end of last school year, which was one of the toughest in recent memory, social workers, counselors and hundreds of other instructional support providers got some encouraging news.

While negotiations were ongoing, Albuquerque Public Schools and the local teachers union announced that they’d agreed instructional support providers would receive the same minimum salaries as teachers, after many were left behind when lawmakers approved raises for teachers and some counselors earlier this year.

But last week, everything was thrown into limbo when the school board voted 4-3 to table the bundled package of changes to the negotiated agreement, citing a need for more time to address concerns, particularly with academic issues contained within the contract.

That vote, which came after educators resoundingly approved it earlier this month, prompted the Albuquerque Teachers Federation to declare an impasse with APS, meaning that negotiations are at a stalemate and litigation could be on the horizon.

“I just didn’t see this coming at all … I was just in shock,” Sandia High School counselor Samantha Ashby told the Journal about the situation. “It just feels like we’re not on solid ground, and it makes me wonder – who is supporting us? And who values the work that we do?”

The APS board is set to discuss and vote on the negotiated agreement during a board meeting Wednesday evening, after they meet behind closed doors to discuss bargaining strategy.

Ashby said that the raises being jeopardized has been concerning, worrying and upsetting for many of her counselor colleagues. Because a negotiated agreement has never been tabled before, according to the union, the situation’s caused a lot of uncertainty.

The raises being in limbo has a ripple effect that reaches students, speech and language pathologist Dana Bowersock Ziegler said, because the promise of base salary increases from earlier this summer helped attract new educators to APS this year.

She added that the promise offered a sigh of relief for many pathologists, and helped them feel as if their work was being taken seriously.

But now, many are afraid they’ll be left behind, she said, potentially plugging the pipeline of new pathologists.

“Our caseloads have ballooned over the years … if we can’t hire new SLPs to help spread the workload, you’re going to see a decrease in the quality (of services),” Bowersock Ziegler said. “Now, we’re left wondering ‘What happens?’ And we’re angry.”

The board’s decision to table, and the resulting impasse, was just as shocking for classroom teachers, even though their salaries aren’t affected, Garfield STEM Magnet and Community School art teacher Tracey Taylor said. She said she felt many of her colleagues had turned into “collateral damage” and that some board members were trying to “sanitize our school experience.”

“It’s turned from shock to anger to disappointment,” Taylor said. “And I want to try to give faith and grace, and say, ‘OK, maybe you’re new, and you don’t understand this process’ … but this really does fall outside of the collective bargaining structure.”

One of the main issues board members raised with the contract was language involving educators’ freedom to exercise their professional judgment in academic issues within the limits of Common Core State Standards and other guidelines.

Board member Danielle Gonzales said she was particularly concerned that the contract overstepped its boundaries on academic issues, and argued that research showed that when teachers have flexibility to choose instructional materials, it results in a lower quality education.

“I have heard significant concern from school leaders, from principals, that they don’t have the authority … to control or determine or support what gets taught in the classroom, and that teachers have too much leeway in that,” Gonzales added in an interview last week.

Taylor said educators deserve to be able to exercise their professional judgment in classrooms, saying that while sometimes new teachers do need some time to find their way, flexibility for teachers means a meaningful, interactive education.

“Without the professional judgment of ‘This kid needs this, let me make learning happen for this student,’ … we’re (hamstrung), and that student is ultimately the one who suffers,” she said. “What we do is hard, and we’ve been trained to teach.”

“There needs to definitely be an apology issued,” she added. “They’re jeopardizing some support personnel’s raises over … teacher flexibility.”

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