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Collaborative Conferencing
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Read Nobody Wins When We Fight on our blog or at the bottom of this page for more information on Professional Educators of Tennessee's involvement in collaborative conferencing.


What is Collaborative Conferencing?

Collaborative Conferencing is the process by which local boards of education and their professional employees meet, either directly or through representatives designated by the respective parties, to confer, consult, and discuss matters relating to certain terms and conditions of professional service as specified by the passing of the PECCA . The process of collaborative conferencing includes the exchange of information, opinions, and proposals among the conferencing parties, as well as the use of the principles and techniques of interest-based collaborative problem-solving (IBCPS).


Initiating Collaborative Conferencing

Collaborative Conferencing is initiated by the submission of a written request to the district's board of education by at least 15% of the professional employees in the district.

The local board then appoints an equal number of local board members and professional employees to a special question committee to hold a private poll. A majority of professional employees eligible to vote in the poll must vote to undertake collaborative conferencing with the local board of education for the board to be obligated to participate. When this requirement is met, the local board will appoint 7-11 management personnel, and an equal number of professional employees will be selected as representatives.


The poll also determines which employee organizations will be represented. Representatives will be selected based on each organization's proportional share of the responses. A professional employee organization must receive at least 15% of the votes in the poll to be entitled to representation. Each representative serves for 3 years.


Memorandum of Understanding

Management personnel and the professional employee representative may enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the terms and conditions of employment, not to exceed 3 years in duration.


An MOU becomes binding from the date of its approval by the local board of education or at a later effective date specified within the MOU. Items that require funding are not effective until the local funding body has approved such funding in the budget. If the amount of funds appropriated is less than the amount required, the parties may continue to confer to reach agreement within the amount of funds appropriated.


Subjects Local Boards Are Required to Conference

  1. Salaries or wages

  2. Grievance procedures

  3. Insurance

  4. Fringe benefits (not to include pensions or retirement programs of the Tennessee consolidated retirement system or locally authorized early retirement incentives)

  5. Working conditions, except those working conditions that are prescribed by federal law, state law, private act, municipal charter or rules and regulations of the State Board of Education, the Department of Education or any other department or agency of state or local government

  6. Leave

  7. Payroll deductions (except with respect to those funds going to political activities)



Subjects Prohibited from Conferencing

  1. Differentiated pay plans and other incentive compensation programs, including stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations, or that aid in hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas

  2. Expenditure of grants or awards from federal, state or local governments and foundations or other private organizations that are expressly designed for specific purposes

  3. Evaluation of professional employees pursuant to federal or state law or State Board of Education policy

  4. Staffing decisions and State Board of Education or local board of education policies relating to innovative educational programs under § 49-1-207; innovative high school programs under Title 49, chapter 15; virtual education programs under Title 49, chapter 16; and other programs for innovative schools or school districts that may be enacted by the general assembly

  5. All personnel decisions concerning assignment of professional employees, including, but not limited to, filling of vacancies, assignments to specific schools, positions, professional duties, transfers within the system, layoffs, reductions in force, and recall. No agreement shall include provisions that require personnel decisions to be determined on the basis of tenure, seniority or length of service

  6. Payroll deductions for political activities.





JC Bowman, Audrey Shores


Children hate when their parents fight like children, unable to control their emotions. Teachers can tell when students are upset and bring their home life into the classroom. It is a sad and often unspoken truth that educators confront on a daily basis: nobody wins when parents fight. The same is true about organizations, political parties, or news organizations. While there are conflicts between all organizations, political parties, and news organizations, when they allow their emotions to get the best of them we all lose. 

Recently, our organization was attacked in a distorted and malicious manner by a union. The subject was collaborative conferencing. They took a page right out of the Saul Alinsky playbook in their strategy. Alinsky said to accuse your opponent of what you are doing, to create confusion surrounding evidence of your own responsibility for causing the problem in the first place. John Loeffler points out that those who employ Alinsky tactics “oppose independent, morally strong, educated people because those individuals, especially in groups, can’t be manipulated easily.” 

Loffler then adds, “Once they’ve created a problem they propose themselves, or at least those in power with the same ideology, as the answer.” The truth was that the problem they self-identified was of their own creation; the real solution would have been to have simply followed the law initially. We merely pointed out that the process and timeline for Collaborative Conferencing as prescribed by state law was not being followed correctly, and this organization did not like being reminded of the existing law and their responsibility to follow that law. Instead, they converted this opportunity to learn into a circuitous and defensive deflection of responsibility. It is unfortunate that school systems and our organization have to respond to the darker aspects of misleading communications that often come from unions rather than working collaboratively to highlight all the positive qualities in public education in which we can all agree. 

It is worth noting we always support the right of employees to discuss their working conditions, and always have; however, a failed Industrial era model that was previously utilized has been discredited by numerous researchers like Michael Lovenheim , Alexander Willen, Andrew Coulson, Caroline Hoxby, Agustina Paglayan, and Terry Moe . A more modern approach to addressing issues and removing barriers to cooperation, while including more people should always be supported. 

The term “collective bargaining” was coined in 1891 by British socialist reformer Beatrice Webb . Recognizing that this contentious 18th Century industrial model did not serve teachers and students in the 21st century, the Tennessee General Assembly made changes to the law in 2011. The intent was positive, although we disagree with some of the items like differentiated pay plans and other incentive compensation programs, including stipends, and associated benefits being excluded. In addition, they established a timeline for how this process must be completed. Any time the specifics of a law that are clearly included in the legislation are being ignored it creates a risk for the entire results to be invalidated outright, and all parties involved should want to ensure that the process is followed lawfully so that a Collaborative Conferencing agreement is successful. 

Keep in mind the timeline written into the collaborative conferencing law was established to interact with school district budgeting processes, which align with City and County government budget processes and the state budgeting processes. Items that require funding are not effective until the local funding body has approved such funding in the budget. If the amount of funds appropriated is less than the amount required, the parties may continue to confer to reach agreement within the amount of funds appropriated. It is a cycle. 

Deviation from that cycle in the bureaucratic processes make alignment with local, state, and federal budgets difficult. Whether or not we agree with the timeline established in the law is moot. It is the law. Perhaps we should change the law; as we have told our union counterparts, we were and are willing to work with them to do just that. However, until the law is changed we have no other option but to follow the law. The union apparently disagrees that the timeline  identified in the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act is applicable.

Thinking ahead, if a school district was to arbitrarily decide to not follow the law, and policy was enacted based upon failure to follow the law some astute educator, somewhere would ultimately challenge the policy and point out that the district did not follow the law. And a judge would ultimately agree that the district failed to follow the law. Nobody would win, if that were to happen. Again, we professionally just pointed out the obvious, of which the union should have been aware, while telling them that they should meet and discuss the issues and move forward. We merely wanted the district to be aware they had not followed the law, and understood the risk. 

The goal of collaborative conferencing has always been to include more, not fewer, teacher voices in the debate for teacher working conditions. It is a means to express an opinion and work toward solving disagreements on those issues such as salaries or wages, grievance procedures, insurance, fringe benefits, working conditions, leave and payroll deductions. Payroll deductions for political activities are expressively forbidden. It is also important to be reminded that state organizations do not initiate collaborative conferencing; rather it is done by local educators, who may be members of any organization.  

Fortunately, collaborative conferencing is not the only manner to address these critical issues. 
Working outside of the conferencing process with superintendents and other elected leaders may actually be much more beneficial, especially since the conferring process has not been enacted widely across the state. In addition, rather than an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding), many of these items should be placed within board policies to be more effective for educators, thus making it more difficult to take away from educators. Public education in Tennessee wins when we all work together through civil discourse to address our considerable issues. 




JC Bowman is the Executive Director and Audrey Shores is the Chief Operations Officer of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act
(Public Chapter 378)

PECCA replaced the Education Professional Negotiation Act (EPNA) effective June 1, 2011. PECCA does not make collaborative conferencing mandatory, but if the process is initiated by the professional employees of a district the local board of education is legally obligated to engage in such conferencing, and both parties are bound to use the principles of interest-based collaborative problem solving.

"Professional employee" is defined as any person employed in a position requiring a license issued by the DOE for service in Tennessee's public elementary and secondary schools, however, the law expressly excludes:

• principals, assistant principals, and supervisors

• other employees whose principal responsibilities are administration rather than teaching

• any employee who devotes a majority of his or her time to system-wide areas of professional personnel management, fiscal affairs or general management

• retired teachers who are employed as teachers in accordance with T.C.A. Title 8, chapter 36, part 8.

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Interest-Based Collaborative Problem Solving?

The term "interest-based collaborative problem-solving" is not defined by the new law. However, interest-based collaborative problem-solving is an increasingly popular method of multiparty consensus-building negotiation. It is based upon mutual interests and respect among the parties, jointly identifying problems, the open, free exchange of information, nurturing creativity in the generation of options, and a good-faith, non-adversariaI approach to solving problems using agreed- to criteria. This is intended to lead to an agreement between the parties based upon consensus and mutual gain.

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