After six months of delays and wrangling, the Austin ISD Board of Trustees on April 23 finally approved its new policy for how it deals with employee issues. The system continues the use of an employee group as the exclusive consultation agent, selected by popular vote of all district employees (this being Texas, direct negotiation with unions is a no-no). Right now that elected body is Education Austin, with its current term running until Dec. 31, 2013. However, the new policy adds a consultation agent advisory council, drawing members from all vertical teams, as well as the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, and the Southwest Workers Union. The board voted 6-1 for this new structure, which Education Austin co-presidents Ken Zarifis and Rae Nwosu have applauded for continuing and expanding the current system.
However, the board was more strenuously divided than the vote implies. Board President Mark Williams said he was unhappy that the arrangement was not even more inclusive, but he was prepared to vote for it anyway. Secretary Lori Moya was unable to overcome her concerns and voted no, while trustee Cheryl Bradley simply abstained (board Vice President Vince Torres was absent for the debate and the vote). Even though the agreement extends and formalizes their roles in employee relations dramatically, both the ATPE and TCTA sent staff from their statewide offices to protest the deal, and ATPE PR director Larry Comer described it as "the current bad policy warmed over." Yet several members of the board have been highly critical of the administration's foot-dragging over resolving this policy change – especially since staff originally recommended just keeping the old system. Trustee Robert Schneider was particularly concerned that the newly created advisory council repeated an abortive "king's council" approach to consultation that the district dumped years ago. He asked Superintendent Meria Carstarphen what would happen to the council's planned monthly sessions "if we hold meetings for six months and no one shows up. We're going to continue the practice anyway?" However, with the new deal secured, Zarifis praised the board and the district's staff for cementing an agreement "that gives everyone in this district a voice. A democratic voice. One strong voice."
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