Storm Clouds Gather over Lakota: S.B.5 forces union concessions that saves millions of dollars

Doc Thompson and I talk about the historic signing between the Lakota Education Association and the Lakota School Board on 700 WLW of the new contract that removes “step increases” from the financing scheme the district has been struggling with. Click here to listen to that detailed conversation that covers everything from storms to Senate Bill 5. This is the first time in Lakota’s 54 year history that such an agreement has been achieved. But for me, it’s too little too late, and too little when much more is needed.

As the storm clouds raged in over the Lakota Administration building around 7:30 pm May 23, 2011 bringing threatening weather with such wind gusts that the windows rattled, the Lakota School Board meeting was postponed while everyone present sought shelter from a would-be tornado. Channel 19 was there filming the event as a musical act was wrapping up, and effort from Ron Spurlock to create a meeting atmosphere that relieved the tension that had festered in a community that feels overly taxed on one hand, and a teachers union that never knows when enough is enough. I admired the work Ron has been doing, and he seemed o me to be functioning as the ideal superintendent for the Lakota district. He understands the way educators think, but he’s not unrealistic to what’s going on in the outside world. He’s a likeable guy and it shows. He is a perfect example of how leaders emerge in crises, and he is what has emerged as the previous superintendent left town during the last levy attempt.

The Channel 19 reporter told his cameraman, who then told a guy back in the tech booth that a dangerous storm cell was coming our way, so Joan evacuated the room to seek shelter stuffed into the back of the building away from the bouncing glass windows. My wife and I looked at the storm outside then at the people who that had forced so much pain on our community with the union contract, and elected to go outside into the storm to watch the fascinating clouds roll in. We joined the TV people wo had already gathered outside to get weather shots for their various stations. It was more dangerous outside for sure, but the breeze felt good and if a tornado touched down, we’d be able to see it hopefully in time to get to some cover.

Much to my surprise Ron Spurlock joined me outside along with Jenni Logan. We had a nice conversation, nothing serious. I purposely wanted to avoid doing a lot of talking. After all, they had a reason to celebrate and I didn’t want to rob them of the experience. The relief on their faces that the LEA actually negotiated a deal in record time with them without discussion of strikes, or other hardships, was nothing short of stunning.

As bits of mulch kicked up in the wind and became dangerous projectiles that the cameraman shielded their cameras with their hands to protect, I saw on Ron’s face a genuine love of the district and a joy of actually having some good news. So I kept the conversation friendly. This was not the day for contention. Even though the storms were spreading over Lakota from above, by an act of nature, it was nothing compared to the storm that had settled psychologically within the members of the community. So Ron and I stood outside with the news crews, joined by Jenni and watched the dangerous storm with the relief similar to those that are enjoying the relief of a hurricane that had move on.

After a half hour, the storm cleared and the meeting resumed. The contract was voted on quickly and the meeting ended. My wife and I left quietly.
On the way home I thought of the teachers union that had held out all this time and nearly bankrupted the district with their refusal to deal with the school board, to act like children to keep asking and asking for more money when the district has already well-compensated them. Then the reality hit me about their actions. They didn’t give up anything. They weren’t suddenly working with the district and the community that must pay their wages. They have their eye on the bigger prize, of repealing S.B.5 from law in November. It is that law that they want to get rid of and the union strategy is to give up these short-term fights for the greater prize of being able to continue to extort excessive wages from the community in the future. S.B.5 will give school boards such as Lakota much more leverage in contract negotiations. It will take away the unions ability to create work stoppages through strikes which is a heavy-handed strategy the union uses often. The LEA has threatened strikes twice in the last 3 years. Once in 2008, which came down t the wire and then a threat of another in March of 2010, both incidents were over wages and benefits. So the union does not want to lose the ability to use such tactics against the community. So the realization hit me hard that while we were all happy and celebrating at Lakota, a more sinister villain loomed on the horizon.

As the clouds parted to reveal a bit of the setting sun, and the cool breeze that follows such storms was refreshing our faces as we drove with the windows down, my wife and I enjoyed the moment for what it was, a moment of relief in a war that would resume tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow over the repeal of S.B.5.

It was S.B.5 that brought both sides to the table. It was the fear of it that forced the union to put on a friendly face and work with the community so they could claim as much during the campaign to repeal. So my mind went to work on what those next steps would be, as I took a breath and enjoyed the moment for all it was worth.

Rich Hoffman!/overmanwarrior