'More Inclusive' at the Exclusion of Teachers?

AISD staff wonder if there's union busting afoot

Education Austin co-President Rae Nwosu questions why AISD spiked an agenda item that would have renewed her group’s position as sole negotiator for employee relations.
Education Austin co-President Rae Nwosu questions why AISD spiked an agenda item that would have renewed her group’s position as sole negotiator for employee relations. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

In recent years, Austin Independent School District staff have seen their workload soar, their wages and benefits stagnate, and their contract lengths slashed. Now teachers are wondering why the district is engaging in what looks like union busting.

On Nov. 21, the AISD board of trustees was scheduled to pass an automatic recertification of its "consultation representative," which would reaffirm Education Austin as the sole negotiator for employee relations. With no warning, the item was pulled from the agenda. When asked by the Chronicle for clarification, the district said that it was done at the request of the administration just before the meeting. When asked why, administrative staff said they are examining "more inclusive" models of negotiations. Education Austin's leadership was initially only told by the administration that the item had been removed by an 8-0 board vote and were not informed until their scheduled consultation meeting on Nov. 29 that it was at the request of Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

Chief Human Capital Officer Michael Houser called himself "the architect" of the last-minute decision to pull the item, and said that he wanted an opportunity to "stop, look, and listen before we recommit for another four years." He noted that, out of AISD's 12,000 staff, Education Austin "represents only about 25 percent of our employees, and I have to answer for 100 percent."

Carstarphen told the Chronicle that it was not uncommon to pull board items, and said that she was not proposing ending all relations with Education Austin. Instead, she plans to bring the item back for board discussion on Dec. 12, and that she will propose a short-term extension with Education Austin so her staff can examine alternatives. She said, "If it's good enough for Ed Austin and others to say we need more community engagement, I need more employee engagement as well."

Reshaping this key deal with employees is not just a bureaucratic nicety: If the board does change the current structure, it would be overturning a 45-year-old district policy. Union co-President Rae Nwosu said that since there are only four other Texas ISDs with consultation agreements as part of board policy – San Antonio, Corpus Christi, El Paso, and Dallas – it should not take the district long to evaluate any options, and noted that Houser had recently praised the current system. She said, "We've been able to get great things done in the last 12 years as the consultation agent."

Other unions have previously examined taking over for Education Austin as consultation representative. In fact, this year the Association of Texas Professional Educators investigated making its own application but withdrew from the process after the district informed the association that the unions would have to shoulder the cost of an election. That should, by default, mean that Education Austin retains the deal, and that is what the original consent item reflected. AISD board Pres­ident Mark Williams said that "the administration just said that they wanted a little more time before they took action," and noted that there had been discussions about reshaping the consultation deal in prior years. However, he said he was unaware that the union had not been informed of Carstar­phen's decision to pull the item.

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Austin ISD, Education Austin, Meria Carstarphen

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