The Waukee School Board held its regular meeting on Monday with a pretty light agenda. The meeting, however, still lasted about an hour, with over 30 minutes being taken for comments from the public.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, school staff, including Ann Hanigan, president of the Waukee Education Association, and even a student, stood up to speak about the recent changes to collective bargaining put into law by the legislature earlier this month.
Hanigan was the first to stand and tell the school board about her disappointment in the Waukee School Board for not hurrying to extend their contract to future years like many other school districts in the state did before the new law was signed by Gov. Terry Branstad.
“When the WEA asked the Superintendent if we could settle an extended language contract, we were told that you had already decided that you didn’t want to settle a contract with us and that you wanted to wait and see what happened at the capitol and did not want to be rushed,” Hanigan said. “We did not ask you to make decisions about money. We were only asking that you extend out the language that Dr. Wilkerson and the Association worked on together, which had been approved by the board. We were not asking you to give us anything new, just some piece of mind.”
She said that she had seen emails from other school districts to the teachers that showed support for them. Hanigan had words of criticism for the email that the teachers at Waukee received from the school board and Superintendent.
“Instead of comfort we were told to make sure to maintain our focus, as if Waukee teachers would neglect their teaching responsibilities. We never have,” Hanigan said.
“This is not the District that I’ve given 27 years of student dedication and teacher representation to. This felt like one of those districts that has an adversarial relationship with one of their teachers. Waukee was the only District in the metro not to settle any kind of extended contract.”
She said that it took David Wilkerson, the former Superintendent at Waukee 21 years to build up the relationship the District and the WEA had. She said she feels that relationship has now been compromised.
School Board President, Susan Bunz, responded with words of her own to Hanigan. She confirmed that the school board didn’t want to be rushed and said that they hardly had time to post a 24-hour notice of the required public meeting in the time that the WEA approached the School Board about the possibility of passing an extended language contract.
“I have to say that I’m kind of offended that after all of the work we’ve done with you guys and the relationship we have and the faith that we have in our teachers that you don’t think we care anymore about you guys or, the bottom line, our children in this district,” Bunz said. “What good does it do to say we’re going to pull the rug out from under our teachers? How does that help our kids?
“We, as a board, could not be any more supportive of our teachers. We have the best teachers in this state. Hands down, I believe it.”
The current contract in place through next school year includes a 3.9 percent increase in compensation for teachers in the Waukee Community School District. Many other districts in Iowa passed contract extensions that include smaller increases than that.
Bunz assured Hanigan and all of the school staff members that were in the room for the meeting that the board would continue to work with the WEA in the future, after the current contract expires.
“The fact that Chapter 20 has gone away, and for who knows how long, that doesn’t change anything,” Bunz said. “And so for all of you that are here, I just want you to know, this hasn’t changed anything for us. We will continue to meet with you monthly, we will continue to work, nothing has changed.”
Bunz stated that she believes that the teachers in that room should have been more worried about the fact that they will only be receiving a 1.1 percent increase in state funding for the next school year and that people are starting to talk about funding for private school vouchers.
“Those are going to be the things that are the demise of our school district,” Bunz said. “Not the fact that Chapter 20 went away, because we’re going to keep operating with you guys and talking and working the way we always have, but if we don’t have money to pay you, then that’s going to be a problem.”
The teachers and the WEA were not the only ones to have something to say about the issue with Chapter 20 and Waukee’s decision not to agree to an extended language contract before Chapter 20 was eliminated. Michael Adato, a senior at Waukee High School, also spoke critically of the decision.
Adato said that he was an intern for the Iowa Senate Democrats and knew an extensive amount about what is going on in the Senate this year, including with Chapter 20.
He stated that the conversation between Bunz and Hanigan showed that they had already lost the relationship that they had built up over the years, saying that the conversation during the meeting was “completely adversarial.”
He mentioned how much his teachers had helped him over the years in the Waukee School District, saying that some even helped him get more out of classes when he had outgrown the curriculum.
“Those teachers go above and beyond to make us successful,” Adato said.