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Teachers’ contract underscores high schools’ ‘paramount’ Catholic purpose

August 28, 2015
Rick DelVecchio

A new labor agreement between the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the union representing teachers at the four archdiocesan high schools states that Catholic teachings must remain paramount in the classroom and that teachers are accountable for personal conduct that could negatively affect their ability to serve the Catholic mission.

Marin Catholic High School president Tim Navone said the agreement, which follows months of contention that made national headlines, brings the focus back on teaching.

“I am most excited that our teachers are going to be able to be fully focused without distraction on what they are going to do best, and that is teaching,” he told Catholic San Francisco Aug. 20. “As an administrator my hope and goal is they have the sole focus of educating our students.”

Navone added that he is “filled with a lot of gratitude for those on all sides. The union executive committee really worked hard.”

Ted DeSaulnier, a religion teacher at Archbishop Riordan High School and a member of the executive committee of Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers Local 2240, said he felt relieved to settle a disagreement he described as “one of those perfect storms.”

Societal issues of religious freedom and equal rights clashed but in the end both sides strived to reach an agreement, with the union offering the final language that forged a tentative deal in July, he said.

The agreement, ratified in a narrow 90-80 decision by union members Aug. 19, includes a five-paragraph preamble section on the purpose of Catholic education and expectations for teachers to support the mission. “All lay teachers covered by the agreement “shall conduct themselves at all times during the performance of those duties in a manner in keeping with the standards of the church,” the preamble states.

“The close vote reflected divisions among faculty and the broader community after the archdiocese administration proposed new language that would have declared teachers to be ‘ministers,’ language that, if implemented, would have placed the teachers outside the protections of the National Labor Relations Act,” the union said in a news release.

Covering 236 full-time teachers, the deal provides for a 7.5 percent salary increase over three years for teachers at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield and Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo. Teachers at Archbishop Riordan in San Francisco will receive a 6 percent increase over the contract term, with possible parity with the other schools at 7.5 percent if the school can afford a larger increase in the third year.

“I want to thank the union and administration negotiating teams for their hard work over the past few months in coming to this agreement,” Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone said in a statement from the archdiocese. “They have negotiated just wages and benefits for our high school teachers, who are among the finest teachers in Northern California.

“I also very much appreciate that the negotiations included a rich discussion about the mission and purpose of Catholic education and the vital role that our high school teachers play in carrying out that mission,” he said. “I’m pleased that these discussions reinforced and clarified purposes and roles which have been referenced in previous contracts. And I pass on my special thanks to all our teachers who ratified this agreement.”

Nina Russo, interim superintendent of schools, said, “We look forward to our students returning to a year of learning and rich, meaningful experiences in both academics and school life. We appreciate the concerted efforts of teachers and school leadership to prepare for this new school opening with the highest degree of commitment and professionalism.”

The deal ends 10 months of bargaining marked by strong resistance by some teachers that the archdiocese’s proposals to strengthen the schools’ Catholic mission could threaten their job security and lead to intrusions into their private lives.

The proposals included initial contract language that defined teachers as ministers, and a supplemental faculty handbook revision that strictly underscored Catholic moral and theological principles.

As bargaining progressed the archdiocese dropped all references to teachers as ministers, and negotiators for the two sides finally settled on language focusing on teaching and expectations for the personal conduct expected of a Catholic teacher.

“(The archbishop) tried to be as flexible as possible,” Jesuit Father John Piderit, archdiocesan vicar for administration and moderator of the curia, told Catholic San Francisco Aug. 20. “Had he gone too far in insisting on these he would not have gotten the agreement.”

Father Piderit said it is up to individual school administrators or principals to investigate and decide any concerns that a teacher’s conduct may detract from the classroom.

“The archbishop has made it clear that they are to try to work things out,” Father Piderit said.

Unresolved personnel matters will go to the superintendent of schools, he said.

Unchanged from previous agreements, the contract provides for a grievance process that may include arbitration.

Father Piderit likened the process to the way student conduct issues are handled.

“My point is not the penalty,” he said. “My point is you’re always making a judgment about particular circumstances.”

The union news release said “the language makes clear that questions regarding teacher conduct on and off the job are subject to the collective bargaining grievance procedure, and are not the sole province of administrative fiat. The language was vetted through California Federation of Teachers attorneys, ensuring compliance with protective labor laws.”

Union president Gina Jaeger said “the negotiations have been an arduous process, testing the resolve of our executive board and membership. But union democracy provided a firm foundation for our discussions. I am very proud of our union for standing tall in support of dignity and fairness. Now it is time to heal after a tumultuous year.”

Father Piderit said the overall impact of the agreement is to clarify Catholic identity especially in the Bay Area where ideas may be confused. The deal affirms that “we expect people not to compromise in Catholic teaching in word and in action,” he said.

During months of bargaining, the faculty handbook revision, which was concurrent with but never part of the bargaining process, was expanded into a theologically broader, more Christ-centered document by a committee of high school theology teachers picked by the archbishop.

With the labor agreement now in hand, the handbook will serve as a template for ongoing teacher formation, first at Marin Catholic and later at the other three schools, Father Piderit said.

Marin Catholic president Navone said four meetings are planned for administrators and faculty to address the document. Teachers previously expressed concerns primarily about issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, he said.

“There’s nothing new and nothing changing on how we instruct but there are a lot of people here who feel nervous by the fact of not having a full grasp of Catholic teaching and don’t want to step into a minefield,” he said. “We want to take the time to talk about issues they may come in contact within curricular areas and other issues they encounter in normal life.”

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