Alya Mehrtash staff writer
The BHUSD Board of Education and the Beverly Hills Education Association (BHEA), commonly referred to as the teachers’ union, are currently in negotiations over the 2020-2021 school calendar and class sizes in Kindergarten (TK) through third grade.
According to BHEA President Ethan Smith, “there’s nothing really unusual” about the current approach to negotiations, other than the move from collective bargaining to interest-based bargaining.
In collective bargaining, both parties work together toward a solution, whereas interest-based bargaining requires each party to discuss issues amongst themselves before bringing their respective proposals to the negotiation table.
During the end of the 2017-2018 school year, BHUSD called an impasse in negotiations between the district and BHEA, primarily over teachers’ contracts. The impasse period dragged into the 2018-2019 school year until the two parties reached a tentative agreement in October.
“We were in negotiations with the district before and we thought that we had agreed together on this calendar, which has got five days off at Thanksgiving,” Smith said. Following this alleged agreement, members of BHEA voted in favor of the new calendar. “Apparently the district’s bargaining team did not properly explain to the school board that that had already been done, so they began to debate it in open session on the 24th of September.”
While they did not vote on the calendar that night, members of the Board of Education discussed their opinions regarding the matter. Student Board Member senior Thomas Recupero and Board Member Tristen Walker-Shuman were the only two members to express support for the calendar which was backed by BHEA.
The other issue up for debate is class sizes. The current contract between BHEA and the district allows for a class size ratio of 29 students per teacher. This contract, however, supersedes the school board’s policy of 23 students per teacher.
“If the district wanted to, they could put 29 students in a class TK through three and it would be within the contract limits,” Smith said. The union is now aiming to lower the class ratio to 20 students per teacher. “Simply put, smaller class sizes mean a better education for our youngest students. I’m sure you can appreciate that a teacher with fewer students is able to devote more time to each of those students’ individual needs.”
Despite attempted negotiations between the two parties since the Sept. 24 board meeting, Smith feels that the board no longer wishes to discuss the calendar, or anything else, with the union.
“Now [the board is] saying that they don’t want to negotiate about [the calendar] anymore,” Smith said. “It doesn’t seem like they want to negotiate with us anymore at all at this point and that’s not really how negotiations work. Both sides have to work—give a little, get a little.”
Board Member Noah Margo, however, claims that the reasoning behind the calendar settlement was the timeliness of the terms currently being negotiated.
“BHUSD continues to have some of the lowest class sizes in the country and therefore had no interest in changing our current policy,” he said. “A 2020-2021 calendar was agreed to last fall when the board voted on the proposed Tentative Agreement. During that vote the board expressed its desires to return to the negotiating table and amend the 2020-2021 calendar. Due to the timeliness of releasing a calendar to the community we may need to accept the already agreed upon version.”
To Margo and his colleagues, the number one priority is to come to an agreement within the near future with the union.
“It’s the board’s desire to remedy the situation as soon as possible as we want to be able to release a calendar for next year to the community as soon as possible,” Margo said.
Margo declined to comment on the current state of negotiations between the two parties, claiming that negotiations, being one of the issues discussed in the board’s closed session, are “kind of sacred.”