Charlottesville teachers, school staff seek to unionize | State and Regional News

KATHERINE KNOTT The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress

CHARLOTTESVILLE – More than four-fifths of Charlottesville city teachers are ready to form a union.

Organizers with the Charlottesville Education Association presented a resolution Thursday to the city School Board that would give employees the ability to collectively bargain a contract that would cover wages, hours and other work conditions. So far, 85% of licensed teachers have signed union authorization cards along with 57% of education support professionals, which includes instructional assistants, school nurses and custodians.

Jessica Taylor, a teacher at Clark Elementary and president of CEA, said the association has the highest percentage in the state of licensed educators on board.

“People are ready,” she said. “They want this.”

By forming a union, educators are hoping to secure higher wages, guaranteed planning time and a role in decisions make regarding what happens in the classroom. Although the pandemic has worsened teachers’ workload and increased their burnout, CEA organizers said that the pressures of the past two years are not new.

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Planning time is not guaranteed for teachers at the elementary level, Taylor said.At Clark, she has five planning periods a week. However, three of those are taken up by meetings.

“There are three days a week that we have 20 minutes for lunch, and that’s the only time we’re not actively with students or in a meeting from 7:40 until 2:30,” she said. “… That doesn ‘t leave any time then for preparing for the next day or preparing for the next week. ”

Charlottesville city employees are the latest in the area to seek the right to unionize. Albemarle educators presented their petition last month. In December, Richmond Public Schools teachers became the first in the state to gain collective bargaining rights since a state law changed last May to allow public sector employees to unionize.

The Charlottesville School Board will have 120 days from Thursday to respond to the proposed resolution. The board does not have to grant its permission; however, many board members have voiced support for a teachers’ union in recent months.

In fact, at a school board meeting in January, Superintendent Royal Gurley Jr. invited Taylor up to the podium to talk about collective bargaining with board members.

“I’m probably maybe the only superintendent standing up right now talking about collective bargaining, but I do feel that I do not want this to be something that we are running away from,” Gurley said at that meeting. “I do think we can have this conversation together.”

Organizers are hoping to have a resolution adopted by the end of the current school year and before educators depart for summer break.

“This collective bargaining will guarantee that our voices are heard and that we are at the table actively trying to get what’s best for our students,” said Rae Regan, a reading specialist at Walker Upper Elementary School.

Regan, who spearheaded the organizing campaign with teacher David Koenig, said teachers are “overworked and exhausted” and that she believes that collective bargaining can help address the burnout and expected exodus of educators at the end of the school year.

“People are saying I want [collective bargaining] because I want to be heard, ”said Koenig, a teacher with Lugo-McGinness Academy. “I want us to have a voice in what our schools are like and how they run and what happens in our classrooms.”

Salary and wages are a big issue for employees, Taylor said.For example, many instructional assistants, who are hourly employees, have to work two jobs, she said, though she did not provide a specific percentage. Instructional assistants start at $ 21,788 a year for a 200-day contract and receive benefits.

In the 2020-21 school year, the average salary for Charlottesville teachers is $ 64,543, according to state data. Statewide, the average is $ 61,692.

Shannon Gillikin, a Charlottesville teacher, said during public comment at Thursday’s meeting 100% of the education support professionals at Jackson-Via Elementary, where she works, signed cards.

“Traditionally, this group is overlooked, underpaid and their input is undervalued,” she said. “But by authorizing collective bargaining, you have an opportunity to change that.”

Regan said the main priority overall is making sure that teachers are included in the decision-making process and on different committees.

“Charlottesville preaches this culture of care, and we preach equity, but I have not found a teacher right now who feels like we’re cared about,” Regan said.

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