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Tue, Sept. 21

School board considers new advisory board

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Williams Unified School District (WUSD) Governing Board members proposed forming a "superintendent's advisory committee" as an alternative to adopting a meet and confer policy at the Jan. 23 special meeting.

Board members heard a presentation about developing a meet and confer policy from Ann Wells, vice president of the Williams Education Association (WEA), at the Nov. 28 meeting. Under the proposed policy, the committee would meet with administration at least four times per year to encourage shared decision-making.

Governing Board President David Nenne said he is concerned about implementing a meet and confer policy because traditionally meet and confer groups are involved in collective bargaining.

He added that WUSD's attorneys advised the board not to adopt a meet and confer policy.

"But that doesn't mean that we can't still do something that accomplishes those same goals," Nenne said.

The district already has a shared decision-making policy in place. The superintendent's advisory committee would operate under this policy, and could include employees from all areas of the district, such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers, classroom aides and secretaries.

"And that's already covered under existing policy without having to write new policy," Nenne said.

Board member Bud Parenteau agreed that the district should move forward with the policy already in place. In his opinion, the administration and staff have already made progress.

"Ann Wells brought this up here a couple of meetings ago and I see the results of it: you guys are talking. And that's what we want to do," he said. "I think we've achieved something that we wanted to achieve, and it just came naturally."

Board member and Williams Police Department Chief Herman Nixon said that as a manager himself, "you should take suggestions and look at other ways of doing things from employees because they're the ones out there doing it all the time." However, he said ultimately the supervisor makes the decisions.

Board member Alyssa Dennison asked why such a committee isn't already in place.

Rachel Savage, WUSD superintendent, said she already meets with leadership teams, principals and the WEA president regularly, and is willing to meet with all staff members. Savage said she favors the idea of a superintendent's advisory committee.

"To me, I feel like we're meeting all of the ideals that meet and confer encompasses outside of the collective bargaining issue," she said.

Wells said one concern she had with the superintendent's advisory committee was who would initiate the meetings. She said she wanted committee members to be able to set up meetings if an issue arose.

As an example of a current issue, Wells said staff members are concerned with the revised letter of intent they received this year. In the past, the document stated, "I would like to remain in my present position." This year it states, "I intend to accept the position that may be offered to me at Williams School District for the 2013-2014 school year."

"This raised a lot of concerns among the staff, it's kind of alienating," Wells said.

Wells also mentioned the district's pre-tax payroll deduction authorization form, which states, "In the event my employment status changes (including termination of employment) any amount owed will be collected."

"(The staff is) very uneasy and they're wondering are there plans to eliminate positions? Are there plans to move people around?" Wells said, adding that if a meet and confer policy was in place the administration could discuss the changes with the committee.

Savage said the intent of the letter was to provide an opportunity for anybody that might be retiring to let district officials know.

"We changed the wording just a little bit so that people understood, especially for some of our new teachers, that it's not a contract and it's not an official offering of a positions," she said, adding that several employees had questions about the letter in the past.

Nixon said the letters might not have been an issue if the administration had sent an email explaining the reason for the changes.

"Communication is the key here," he said.

Nixon added only one committee is necessary.

"I don't know why we need a WEA meet and confer committee just to meet with the superintendent," Nixon said. "The superintendent's advisory committee includes the WEA. It includes all staff. So I don't see what the difference is there."

In addition, Nixon said he thought the discussion was heading in the wrong direction.

"I think it's going too far with our superintendent having to justify some of her actions in front of a crowd," he said. "That's not what this is about, so I think that needs to stop."

Nenne ended the discussion by encouraging the administration to meet with staff as requested until the board establishes a formal superintendent's advisory committee.

Board members also discussed a partnership opportunity with Arizona Science Center (ASC). The APS Foundation awarded a $250,000 grant to ASC.

ASC plans to use the money for professional development and instructional coaching for three to five years in the Williams, Flagstaff, Camp Verde and Winslow school districts.

Some potential ways WUSD could use the money include training for math and science teachers, mentoring, science and engineering training and training in student engagement and instructional techniques.

"I just think it's a really cool opportunity to be able to provide support to our teachers that we may otherwise not be able to afford," Savage said.

The district would have to pay a one-time partnership commitment fee of $2,000 to participate.

"So something that we're going to have to weigh is that initial partnership fee and what we would get in return in that three to five years," Savage said.

Nenne said he is interested in hearing more about the program.

"It sounds like the partnership fee is kind of minimal compared to what potentially we could get back out of it," he said.

A representative from ASC will attend a future meeting to answer questions.

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