Durham educators push for representation, involvement in DPS district affairs: 'We're frustrated'

Cindy Bae Image
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Durham educators continue fight for inclusion in DPS district affairs
The Durham Association of Educators continues their demand for better representation now that more than half of all DPS staff have joined the union.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Durham Association of Educators is continuing to demand better representation now with more than half of all DPS staff joining the association, according to the DAE in May.

"We feel disrespected," DPS teacher Christy Patterson said. "We're frustrated."

It's been three months for people like Patterson, who's demanding the union be recognized through Meet and Confer policy where district administrators would agree to formal negotiations with qualifying employee organizations, a legal alternative to collective bargaining. The DAE said it is not about having a representative at Board meetings and it is not an alternative to public comment.

Durham Association of Educators led school walk-ins to demand an official Meet and Confer policy.

"This policy will give us the opportunity to be represented and have a say over our pay, over the conditions and everything that's important to thrive within DPS and for our students," Patterson said. "You're giving us a voice. As people that are in the classroom doing the work every day, we recognize you. We recognize your voice."

She added passing the policy before the end of the school year would stabilize DPS for students by improving staff morale and retention as more and more staff leave the school district after the recent pay debacle earlier this year, according to Patterson.

"The reason the pay debacle happened is because there were people at the table who didn't represent the workers," Patterson said.

The DAE's three demands also include a public commitment by the district on or before May 23 that all DPS employees will be included regardless of union membership status and redefine the scope of the ad-hoc committee the district created in February as part of an effort to better address staff needs.

"An ad hoc committee was formed and has met three times to further explore the policy and process for formalizing opportunities for all employees to have meaningful engagement with the district," board chair Bettina Umstead said in a statement.

Though DPS said it looks forward to ongoing, productive and inclusive conversations, the DAE is increasing its pressure on the district to formally give it a "seat at the table" by speaking before the ad hoc committee meeting on Monday and said they expect to hear a response from the Board by their meeting on Thursday.

However, according to DPS, the DAE members left the meeting Monday.

In a statement Monday evening, Umstead wrote:

"It is unfortunate that Durham Association of Educators members left the meeting today. The meeting continued with other committee members and they had rich conversation. The Board created this committee - which is also comprised of non-DAE members, DPS administration, and Board of Education members - to set the foundation for collaboration amongst our employees who have stated loudly and clearly that they want deeper engagement. The purpose of this meeting today was to figure out how we can have ongoing, inclusive conversations. We hope that our Durham Association of Educators committee members will return to the table. We want to continue to have engagement and conversations on how to strengthen employee voice."

DAE's three specific demands

  • A public commitment from the district by or before May 23 to enact a Meet and Confer policy that recognizes our majority union, and scheduling a meeting with DAE only, to work through the final details of that Meet and Confer policy.
  • A public commitment by the district on or before May 23 that any additional staff engagement processes the district chooses to enact shall be open to all DPS employees regardless of their union membership status. It is not acceptable for the district to discriminate against individual employees by excluding them based on their union membership.
  • Redefine the scope of this ad-hoc committee so that it is limited to developing ideas for individual staff engagement- not union recognition- starting at the Monday 5/20 meeting.

WATCH | Durham educators hold schools walk-ins to demand union recognition

Durham Association of Educations said they represent over half of Durham school employees right now.

DAE, representing more than half of all school employees, accuses the school board of using union-busting tactics and denying their union rights.

In a news release, DAE said:

"Last week, the district proposed a fundamentally anti-union policy to the ad hoc committee - one designed to permanently divide workers and undermine our ability to have a strong, unified employee voice...it is proof that this ad hoc committee has made no progress towards union recognition."

The Durham school board released this statement:

"The Board and DPS Administration are eager to continue the work underway now to ensure that all employees have a voice. We will honor our commitment to this process and look forward to ongoing, productive and inclusive conversations."

It is important to note North Carolina law bans teachers from collectively bargaining their contracts.

Earlier this year, educators rallied over a pay dispute issue. This led to seven schools closing temporarily because they couldn't operate correctly because of staffing absences.

"People realize that we did not have the transparency into what was actually happening with even our own salaries," Fransico Dolz, a PE teacher at Pearsontown Elementary, said.

These demonstrations led to the resignation of both DPS' Chief Financial Officer Paul LeSieur and Superintendent Pascal Mubenga.