Meridian High School Student Newspaper - The Lasso

The Lasso

Meridian High School Student Newspaper - The Lasso

The Lasso

Meridian High School Student Newspaper - The Lasso

The Lasso

Teacher’s union clashes with School Board

Teachers have been attempting to bargain for better pay, hours and benefits, but they have run into several issues. (Graphic by Binyamin Hassan)
Teachers have been attempting to bargain for better pay, hours and benefits, but they have run into several issues. (Graphic by Binyamin Hassan)

On March 28, the Falls Church City School Board unanimously passed a resolution that granted the Falls Church City Education Association (FCCEA) the power to collectively bargain for higher wages, better benefits, and some improved working conditions. However, both sides have reached a stalemate after months of little progress. 

A clause added to the collective bargaining resolution states that the union can not negotiate any direct changes in the wording of School Board policy. This includes wages, benefits, and working conditions. As a result, some union members argue that they are now effectively unable to bargain for most of the things they were told they had the power to discuss, stalling negotiations. 

According to several teachers, these issues have had the effect of lowering morale.

“It would be like if you came to me and said ‘I have some questions about my grade,’ and I said, ‘Great, let’s get together and discuss your grade. But we’re not going to discuss any summative assignments,’” said Mr. Matt Citron, a special education teacher at Meridian. 

However, the School Board asserts this will not have a large impact on negotiations. 

“The School Board is agreeable to modifying our practices to support our workforce,” said School Board Chair Laura Downs.

Additionally, due to the stalled negotiations, the School Board and FCCEA have agreed to introduce a trained third-party facilitator in hopes of making headway.

“After multiple rounds of face-to-face bargaining, the School Board hopes that a trained facilitator will assist the parties in reaching a Collective Bargaining Agreement,” explained Downs. “By agreement with the union, the neutral is from the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, and services are provided free of charge.”

However, some staff still worry that any wording that limits the rights of teachers will affect staffing in the future.

“This school has the best teaching staff I have ever worked with… by limiting what can be done with regard to contracts, I think that the people who would normally come here from other places and other school districts may pass us by,” Mr. Citron said.

Others agreed with Citron.

“We’re having staffing issues. Not just at the teacher level, which is happening in the elementary schools, but custodians and cafeteria staff as well. A lot of support staff are short handed,” said Mr. Kent Foster, who teaches French at Meridian. “We aren’t creating an environment where people want to work with us.”

These concerns are supported by the fact that both the Arlington and Fairfax teachers unions have not had the same issues, and have been more successful in their collective bargaining efforts. 

“The City of Falls Church is looked upon as a leader. We should be taking the lead in this process,” Mr. Citron said. “We’re progressive and we should continue to be progressive. By shutting this down before it starts, it runs counter to our values.”

“[Teachers] don’t feel respected by the School Board and Dr. Noonan, in regards to the collective bargaining agreement,” Mr. Foster said. 

However, Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan said that the school system remains a great place to work and that the bar has been set high due to his efforts as well as the efforts of the School Board.

Negotiations in general can be challenging, and I think they are more difficult when the starting point is a place of excellent benefits,” said Noonan.

Noonan added that he has accomplished a great deal to improve working conditions for all staff during his time as Superintendent.

“FCCPS was the first school division in the Commonwealth of Virginia to provide six weeks of paid Family Leave,” said Noonan. “Over the past six years, I have ensured that FCCPS employees are among the highest paid public school employees in Virginia to the extent that salaries have increased over 20% and in almost every category of employment and we rank #1, 2, or 3 in the entire state. We changed the sick leave payout to provide more than triple what we formerly paid out; we added two days of paid religious leave to every employee so they can celebrate their religious holiday (a celebration of diversity); and more.”

The collective bargaining team and the School Board must reach an agreement soon for any changes to go into effect next school year.

“If we can get to an agreement on some or all issues by December 1, which we sincerely hope will happen, there will be a public document (a Collective Bargaining Agreement) that will be approved by both the School Board and the FCCEA,” Downs explained.

Noonan also hopes to come to an understanding with the union.

“We are a small school division and we have long standing relationships that I have cultivated in my tenure as Superintendent. I will continue to be a champion for our teachers and staff; my work is to ensure the best conditions possible within our schools to support student learning,” Dr. Noonan said.

“We respect and value all of our staff,” Downs agreed.

Despite the current impasse, many teachers still hold out hope. 

“I remember after the George Floyd protests, when we came back to school, Dr. Noonan gave us T-shirts with the Martin Luther King phrase, ‘It’s always the right time to do the right thing,’”  Mr. Foster said. “I would like to ask the School Board and Dr. Noonan: When is the right time to do the right thing?”

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About the Contributors
Anna Goldenberg
Anna Goldenberg, News Editor
Anna is a sophomore, and this is her second year writing for the Lasso. Every few months she will become obsessed with a shiny piece of media, so her interests change a lot. She also likes reading, baking, and her dog.
Binyamin Hassan
Binyamin Hassan, Staff Writer
Binyamin Hassan is a sophomore; this is his first year writing for the Meridian Lasso. He enjoys the process of journalism, and is dedicated to the acquisition and promulgation of accurate news for and towards the Meridian student community. He appreciates candied ginger.