CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The Bradley County Education Association is adapting to the loss of its contract with teachers as a result of a new state law.
In a Thursday statement, Barbara Harrison, president of the teachers' union, said that with the passage of the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act, "there will be changes in the manner in which we will serve as a voice for teachers. This should not mean, however, that our voice will not be heard."
The act, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam on June 1, repealed teachers' unions collective bargaining powers and replaced them with a plan proponents call "collaborative conferencing." Under the law, court-enforceable memoranda of understanding could be struck on items school boards and teachers can agree to, but school boards ultimately would call the shots.
Johnny McDaniel, Bradley County Schools director, assured teachers in the association that they will see no change, noting the Cleveland City Schools system always has operated without a contract for its teachers.
"Nothing has really changed in the way we are running schools and treating employees with the utmost respect," McDaniel told the county school board recently. "Cleveland City already operates in this fashion, with an employee handbook in lieu of a contract. It looks like the entire state will be operating in a similar fashion."
The state law was signed after the teachers' group and a negotiating team from the county school board reached agreements that made only small changes to the current contract. But the contract had not been approved by the school board when Haslam signed the bill, so school board attorney Chuck Cagle advised the board not to vote this month.
Training on collaborative conferencing will be developed by Jan. 1, and training will be implemented by each local education agency by July 1, 2012, Harrison said.
"Until that time, we have already planned with [McDaniel] to have monthly meetings throughout the academic year," she said.
"We do, however, regret the loss of our memorandum of agreement with the board," Harrison said. "Countless hours had been spent working on proposals and presenting those proposals to the board's team."
She said a contract agreement was reached by the teams on March 16, and the teachers' association ratified the contract April 11.
"Each time we requested information regarding when they would vote on the contract, we were told that their lawyer had it," Harrison said in her written statement.