Richmond Education Association leaders have filed two complaints alleging unfair labor practices against Richmond Community Schools and say they “are under attack from the administration.”
They also have expressed concerns about RCS’ recommendation to cancel the teaching contract of the association’s president, who has taught for many years in the district.
In a Sept. 6 statement, Jay Lee, REA’s vice president, said members of the teachers’ union are facing “unprecedented challenges and attempts to quell their voices” within RCS.
Alleging two Unfair Labor Practices (ULP), Lee said REA is “rallying the community to join the fight for the preservation of teachers’ rights and academic integrity.”
No comments were made about REA’s statement or related actions were taken at RCS’ special board meeting Sept. 7, which focused on selecting and swearing in new member Kym Pickering. After the meeting, Superintendent Curtis Wright told Western Wayne News that he had been advised not to comment on REA’s concerns “with things still pending and in motion.”
Wright said the goal of all RCS faculty, staff and stakeholders is to put students first and see that teachers have the essentials and support to carry out daily service to students.
“The most important people in our classrooms are our classroom teachers,” Wright said. “The impact they have on our students is not only felt today but they can have an everlasting impact on the students we serve.”
Lee said that in May, RCS changed compensation for teachers for the 2023-2024 school year, bypassing the established bargaining process with REA.
“We attempted to discourage RCS from acting unilaterally and wait until the bargaining window opens in the fall, but they would not listen,” Lee said.
In the spring, RCS was recovering from an average of 25% teacher turnover between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. Some schools’ turnover percentage had neared 50%.
Heading into the summer break, board members and administrators said teachers needed higher pay to help retain staff and thus improve learning outcomes for the 2023-2024 school year. They approved two types of supplemental payments with a 7-0 vote at a special May 15 meeting, five days after a work session discussion on the topic.
All RCS teachers rated as highly effective or effective on this year’s evaluation who returned in the fall were to receive a $525 stipend. The amount of the second type of payment depended on teachers’ years of service or degrees earned.
Jamie Bolser, now chief of finance and human resources officer, told the board at that time that RCS was especially at risk of losing teachers whose salary didn’t appropriately reflect their years of experience, so they aimed to reach those with 0-18 years of experience with the second stipend.
At that time, Board President Nicole Stults, a former teacher, said she was hopeful the decision would “address the immediate bleed.”
When RCS proceeded with the supplemental payments, REA filed a Complaint of Unfair Practice against RCS on June 19.
REA continued to advocate for participation in corporation discussion and essential events, including Opening Day, a practice that had existed for decades, Lee said, but REA was removed from the agenda.
On Aug. 4, as teachers exited Civic Hall after RCS’ Opening Day addresses, they sought guidance from REA President Kelley McDermott. She reassured them that REA would steadfastly work to protect their rights, Lee said.
However, the situation escalated Aug. 9 when RCS placed McDermott, a longtime Dennis Middle School social studies teacher who also has coached, on paid leave pending an investigation, Lee said. As of Sept. 8, McDermott was still listed on Dennis’ staff website.
Although schools can keep some employee discipline matters confidential, some information can be gleaned from board meeting agendas.
RCS’ board conducted an executive session after its regular Aug. 9 meeting, citing the need to discuss a job performance evaluation of individual employees. While taking action on many other personnel items such as hires and resignations at its Aug. 23 meeting, the board ratified paid leave for an employee identified only by a number. The leave began Aug. 9 “until date to be determined.”
In response to McDermott being placed on paid leave, Lee said REA filed a second ULP on Aug. 15. This time, REA alleged RCS’ interference with the association’s protected rights, including those of McDermott.
On Aug. 17, RCS served McDermott with notice of a preliminary decision to cancel her teaching contract. The second ULP complaint was amended on Aug. 19 to include RCS’s recommendation to cancel McDermott’s contract.
“RCS has moved to cancel the contract of the REA President in an effort to limit the speech of REA members, to scare teachers into not joining the Association, and in retaliation for filing a ULP against RCS,” Lee said.
Some of McDermott’s former students and parents have shared their concerns about RCS’ treatment of McDermott on social media, calling her one of the district’s best teachers. They’ve included the hashtag #StandWithMsMcDermott to help draw attention to their posts.
REA remains committed to vigorously defending McDermott and all its members against these attempts to suppress their voice and actions, Lee said.
He said RCS aims to disrupt REA’s efforts to organize and recruit new members during the critical period of membership recruitment at the beginning of the school year, and REA is calling upon the Richmond community to stand united in its support of teachers and join the fight for their rights.
Richmond Community Schools’ next board work session takes place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, at the administration building, 300 Hub Etchison Parkway. It is open to the public. A 30-minute period for public comment is available at each meeting. RCS meetings are typically recorded and shared on the district’s YouTube channel for later replay.
Updated Sept. 13, 1:50 p.m. to note that the next board meeting has been scheduled for Sept. 27. The original version reported that the meeting was Sept. 13, but the meeting has since been rescheduled.
A version of this article appeared in the September 13 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.