Minister admits relationship with BUT is ‘fractured’
The Minister of Education admitted yesterday that the Government’s relations with the teachers’ union are “fractured”.
In response to the recent vote of no confidence in the leadership of the public education system by the Bermuda Union of Teachers, Diallo Rabain said that the Government had offered to have an independent party help to mediate but he said the union declined.
“Often, when a relationship gets to this point, the involvement of an independent third party can prove to be beneficial,” Mr Rabain said.
“We met with the BUT executive on February 2, presenting the option of having an independent party join discussions between the ministry and the union, which they declined.
“This gesture was a path for us to forge together and a way for us to define new ways of working harmoniously in the future. So, I extend the invitation again. Co-designing and co-producing an improved school system for Bermuda requires all of us to be moving in unison.”
The statement came after teachers said they faced “constant threats and bullying” by the “often-callous leaders” of Bermuda’s public school system.
In an open letter dated Monday, the Bermuda Union of Teachers confirmed that a motion of no confidence had been passed against Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education, Valerie Robinson-James, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, and Mr Rabain during a remotely held emergency general meeting on February 10.
A majority of 72 per cent of BUT members, almost 300 of them, were present for the vote.
A spokesman for the union said: “This vote is a direct reflection of many months of disrespect, disregard and distasteful coercion towards our body of professional educators.
“The union has collaborated with the ministry and Department of Education during the unprecedented challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. After a positive, collaborative relationship was established during the early stages of the pandemic, this union has felt a persistent deterioration of these unified efforts.”
This is the second vote of no confidence issued against Ms Richards and Ms Robinson-James during their tenure. The first was at the start of 2019.
The union went on in its letter to list a raft of concerns, including that union members had tolerated “unacceptable behaviour” on behalf of the leaders for many years.
It claimed there had been a failure on the Government’s part to “create policies and systems informed by previous experience”.
The letter said that despite the efforts of union members to share information, the public school system is in crisis because of a lack of foresight, last-minute changes and ineffective communication.
It said there had been a disregard of input from teachers and administrative staff, adding: “Many of the concerns have been disregarded as leadership moves ahead with implementing irrational expectations that in many cases have created more havoc within school buildings.”
The union accused the Government of giving its members little time to implement new directives and said they have had to sacrifice their personal planning time facilitating additional duties, often being out of pocket financially to provide quality teaching.
The union complained of “punitive recourse” saying despite the extra hours being put in by members “that same level of consideration, compassion and understanding has not been shown for teachers”.
The Ministry of Education often puts out a false narrative to the general public, the union claimed, saying messages suggesting it values teachers “do not ring true” and said that provisions made for others in the civil service had not been afforded to teachers.
The union also highlighted “inefficient management practices” including the frequent cancellation or postponement of joint collective consultation meetings where concerns can be raised, as well as a “continual disregard” for combined consultative committee meetings, which it said are supposed to be held each term.
The union highlighted that there had been a breakdown in securing a memorandum of understanding to all unions by the Government, “with the understanding that the items negotiated will not have a financial cost to them”.
It said the Department of Education denied the union’s five priority proposals, reduced from 12, on the basis that they would have cost implications for the Government, and then failed to provide the union with the monetary value of the costs.
Last-minute responses to concerns have made the public education leadership the “bearers of the most grievances, possibly in our history of union/Government relations”, the letter continued.
It listed “outright breaches” of the union’s collective bargaining agreement and Policy and Procedures Manual for Teaching Staff including excessive hours of work, substitute teachers not being paid at the correct scale, teachers having to act up without adequate remuneration, denial of sabbaticals and training opportunities, late or non-distribution of pay and intimidation of union representatives.
The letter added: “We believe that this vote by our members indicates an urgent need to address the leadership of the CoE, PS and Minister of Education.
“We need effective professionals who will acknowledge the essential role that teachers play in the execution of everyday education, and not treat us like expandable, agency-less hands.
“We need those at the top to allow actual leadership to occur within school buildings — the antiquated, top-down approach to managing our education system is essentially a shot in the foot.
“We need to see effective and authentic action, beyond the lip service delivered to the wider public.
“The BUT membership, representatives, and executive will continue to meet as we collectively move forward, while advocating for positive change, in solidarity.”
“As is acknowledged globally, and as I have said many times before, educators are the single most significant in-school influence on outcomes for children (academic and otherwise). I recognise that schools cannot thrive daily without dedicated education professionals. We, as a country, will not achieve the ambitious targets that we have set for education reform without teachers and school leaders at the heart of this change.
“Bermuda's teachers have done a remarkable job in what has been most certainly, some unprecedented times. While many sectors and industries here in Bermuda and worldwide have come to a standstill due to Covid-19, our education system has continued to serve and educate our children and young people, the core of Bermuda's future.
“Our teachers and school leaders have gone to extreme lengths to ensure that our school buildings are open and safe for in-school teaching and learning. These processes have been crucial to supporting our students, parents, teachers, and their families in ensuring they can maintain their roles in other aspects of Bermuda's economy. And yes, it has not been easy. I do not say these things to deflect from the matters raised in the BUT's open letter, but to acknowledge our teachers' critical role in society.
“It is clear from the recent vote of no confidence in our leadership at the Ministry of Education by the Bermuda Union of Teachers that we have not yet gotten to a suitable place. Although, the best interest of our young people of this country has underpinned everything we do.
“The relationship between the Ministry, Department, and BUT is fractured, but I believe this is not where it ends.
“I think we would all agree that this current dynamic is not in the best interest of our young people and needs immediate rectification. However, this will take all parties willing to collaborate productively to develop new ways of working with each other.
“I acknowledge the BUT's commitment to ongoing engagement with the Ministry and Department of Education and reaffirm our commitment to the same.
“Often, when a relationship gets to this point, the involvement of an independent third party can prove to be beneficial. We met with the BUT Executive on February 2, presenting the option of having an independent party join discussions between the ministry and the union, which they declined.
“Just as in relationship therapy or mediation, it takes the full co-operation of all parties to see the benefits and positive results truly.
“We had hoped this invitation to bring in intermediary help would assist us in working through the matters raised in the BUT's open letter, some of which are rooted in issues that are decades old. More importantly, this gesture was a path for us to forge together and a way for us to define new ways of working harmoniously in the future. So, I extend the invitation again.
“Co-designing and co-producing an improved school system for Bermuda requires all of us to be moving in unison. Bermuda's children and their families deserve nothing less. Together, collaboratively, with the possibility of external help, I am confident we can work through the current issues to a resolution and refocus our energies back to Education Reform.”