Sunday, August 27, 2006

True Leadership Needed in Huber Heights Strike

While Superintendent William Kirby and his highly paid negotiators spend valuable time worrying about the legality of the teacher’s strike, he and his team could be using their time to foster and promote a settlement that will get the students back to school permanently. The Huber Heights teachers, students, and community deserve more from a man who is supposed to be the educational leader of the community. Kirby seems to have a propensity to focus on trivialities while the community senses a crisis. He displayed a bizarre brand of intellectual bankruptcy when he placed last week’s football game above the fundamental educational needs of the students in the Huber Heights schools. The Huber Heights students and teachers deserve more. Those involved in Huber Heights schools deserve a productive year with a singular focus on teaching and learning; however Mr. Kirby appears to be more concerned with the possibility of a temporary victory that would be nothing more than a band-aid on a gushing wound.

Every time that we see Mr. Kirby in the news or read about him in the newspaper, he is touting his effort to have the strike by the local OEA affiliate declared illegal. Kirby behaves as if the state employment relations board declaring the strike illegal would make the whole situation evaporate. His thinking represents nothing more than a simplistic myth. Teachers would retain their right to strike, and would no doubt file another notice, and be on strike again within a matter of days.

Kirby’s lame move to the State Employment Relations Board followed his pathetic attempt to get the press and the public interested in his blizzard of paperwork which amounted to administrative propaganda regarding the current state of bargaining. Surely, he must have been hoping that if he, acting as deity, could let the teachers know his “final offer” that the teachers would sense his warm personality and melt in their resolve to achieve a fair and equitable settlement. Kirby may have hoped that teachers would shrink from the challenge and be afraid to strike. Friday must have been a harsh reality check for Mr. Kirby.

There’s obviously a lot going on in the Huber Heights teacher’s strike than we are seeing and reading in the mainstream media. There are always many factors at work behind the scenes which are not witnessed by the media or the union members. What is public, however, is Kirby’s determination to keep the district solvent in the years ahead, without regard for the interim stability of the district. A rigid philosophy, holding the financial bottom line above all other factors will not produce an effective district. A truly creative, imaginative leadership team must think beyond the unencumbered balance of the district for fiscal year 2010. Most Ohio school districts are fortunate if they have a fiscal management plan that extends further than two years. By allowing a narrowly defined fiscal policy to control every decision, Kirby has allowed controversy to erupt in the Huber Heights community, and has exposed the district to a level of scrutiny that raises the negative perception of the district in the mind of average voters. Kirby will live to regret all of the circumstances which led to this strike.

In the meantime, it is incumbent on Kirby to get his negotiators back to the table to meet with the Union representatives. Non-stop negotiations should begin immediately. The administration/board side must show some flexibility. Clearly there are resources to produce a settlement that is more attractive than the so-called final offer. It is a little shocking that the administration would resort to the obsolete technique of releasing a “last offer” unless their intent was to implement the offer (forcing the teachers to accept it), and to inflame an already strained process. Kirby seems to have excelled at both of these goals.

A leader must lead, and Kirby has seemed more like a professional whiner than a dynamic leader who can facilitate a solution in this current situation. Superintendent Kirby should lead the way back to the table, and join his teacher’s in a collaborative effort to construct a fair settlement sometime early this week. It’s time to stop playing the games that he has obviously been playing for several months.

Read more in the Dayton Daily News here, here, here, and here.

Kathie Bracy has more.

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