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Helena students reap the benefits of union-district collaboration

Montana district to share ideas on recruiting, retaining quality teachers at national conference

WASHINGTON - February 08, 2011 -

With more than half of the teaching force nearing retirement, teachers and administrators in Helena, Mont., have joined forces to address staffing issues and ensure their schools are not only competitive but attractive to job seekers. The Helena School District and the Helena Education Association (HEA) have developed an alternative compensation plan to draw more qualified teachers to the district. The two groups will share details on their partnership during a national education conference on labor-management collaboration set for Feb. 15-16 in Denver.

“Identifying and agreeing on mutual goals is critical, as the folks in Helena have learned,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. “Putting aside differences and working collaboratively to improve teacher quality will directly benefit students in their district. Others can learn from the success of this partnership.”

Innovative Union-District Approach
The joint venture shows how labor and administrators can work together when they share a common goal – in this case, attracting and retaining quality teachers. The new compensation plan, dubbed the Helena Professional Compensation Alternative Plan or PCAP, empowers teachers to make decisions about their own professional development in an environment of collaboration and shared responsibility. Under PCAP, educators who want to move up the salary scale must develop and complete a Career Development Plan (CDP), perform professional service and receive a positive evaluation. To help teachers meet these requirements, the district includes professional development time within the school day, offers mentors for new teachers and relies on a joint committee to make decisions about funding and which professional development programs to support.

HEA President Tammy Pilcher is pleased with the result. “We haven’t had any hiccups, surprises or negatives with PCAP,” she says. “It has been very smooth—primarily because the union and management worked together to create it through trust and consensus.”

PCAP gives union members options to consider and fosters collaboration among teachers. And the new approach is addressing the staffing issue that concerned teachers and administrators. Before the plan was implemented in 2004, some 100 to 200 teachers applied for positions every year. The first year PCAP was implemented, the district received 1,000 applications.

Historic National Conference
Helena is one of the 13 school districts that will share details of union-management collaboration during the upcoming labor management conference in Denver. The event is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with NEA, American Federation of Teachers and other education organizations.
“We applaud the Department of Education for bringing together districts to facilitate such learning,” said Van Roekel. “NEA is committed to supporting the 150 districts attending the labor-management conference in Denver and other districts where partnerships can be forged that promote the best interests of students.”

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing
3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Michelle Hudgins  (202) 822-7823,