Transparency in all labor-management discussions also is important. “I don’t know anything more about the budget than Laura knows,” Smuts said.

To help other districts form strong labor-management partnerships of their own, ABC Unified offered the following suggestions:

• Commit to taking a risk.

• Start regular meetings between the superintendent and union president (and between the human resources director and the union president).

• Develop a set of guiding principles and behaviors that will define the partnership.

• Start small; pick a project to work on together.

For more on school labor-management relations:

ED to unions, districts: Can’t we all just get along?

Wisconsin protests grow as teachers balk at proposed legislation

Editorial: Public school employees under attack

For more on school reform:

Expert: Federal school reform plan is wrong

School Reform Center at eSN Online

For ABC Unified, the first project that union and district leaders worked on together was a partnership to improve the reading skills of students in the district’s South Side, where a higher percentage of students came from economically disadvantaged families.

Union and district leaders teamed up to create the South Side Reading Collaborative, through which they jointly sponsored professional development conferences to improve reading instruction. They also stepped up their recruiting of teachers to work in South Side schools by offering $5,000 signing bonuses and funding the last year of college for student teachers who agreed to work in the schools for at least two years.

As a result of the partnership, the reading skills of South Side students have shown steady gains since 2002.

“We found out, ‘My gosh, look what happens when you work together,’” Rico said.