A "memo of understanding" has been issued between the Amphitheater Education Association and the Amphitheater Public Schools District that partially resolves two class-action grievances filed against Amphi last fall by the teachers' union.
The grievances concern eight of the district's nurses working without pay during registration for the 2003-2003 school year and teachers not receiving an extra day's pay when the district, as part of Proposition 301 compliance, increased instructional days from 177 to 178 last year.
The grievance over the extra instructional day was filed June 20, 2002 and the nurses grievance was filed Sept. 19, 2002. Because they are class-action grievances, they were filed directly with Superintendent Vicki Balentine, as district policy allows, and Balentine assigned them to Amphi legal counsel Todd Jaeger for evaluation. Jaeger issued responses to the grievances in the fall, denying them both.
The memo of understanding addresses only the Proposition 301 discrepancy, said Jim Slingluff, organizational consultant for the Arizona Education Association, which became the local union's advocate in the grievances last month.
"The memo will say that the extra day (required by Proposition 301) is a mandatory item for bargaining next year," said Slingluff, adding that it is too late to do anything about getting extra pay for teachers this year because school districts are limited by state law in spending next year's funds on the past year's contracts. "We're talking an extra day for about 1,000 teachers, which is a lot of money and we'd have to get it figured out and done by the end of June because that is the end of the fiscal year."
He said the memo will not be sent to teachers, but kept by the union and district representatives and "when it comes time to utilize it, we will pull it out if we need to."
In his filing of the extra-day grievance, AEA President John Lewandowski argued, "by adding the day with no compensation, certified employees earn fewer dollars per day and per hour." The district, through Jaeger, countered that teachers are not hourly employees, but salaried ones, and that the contract is for a certain number of days, irrespective of how many of those are instructional days.
Jaeger said teacher contracts are based on a 204 working-day school year, not instructional days. The number of instructional days has gone from 176 to 178 days in the past two years in an effort to comply with Proposition 301, which requires schools have 180 instructional days per year by the 2005-2006 school year.
The AEA grievance also contended that adding the extra instructional day without extra pay violated district policy that states district working conditions are meant to "promote excellent physical and mental health of all employees as a basis for full productivity." The district rejected that argument, saying that many school employees work extra days without pay in the name of "getting the job done," and the extra instructional day is compensated in the raises teachers have gotten each year.
In December, after the district's denial of the nurses' grievance, the AEA requested bringing in a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. On Jan. 9, the district and AEA came to an agreement through the mediator that the nurses' grievance would be handled as a negotiation during this May's salary talks.
However, Lewandowski said when the issue was brought up in negotiations, "the district refused to discuss it, saying it was part of a grievance. "
"We negotiated the nurses' concerns," he said. "We did not agree to give them more working days - it didn't end in an agreement they wanted, but it was negotiated. Just because you don't get what you want doesn't mean it wasn't negotiated."
AEA requested Slingluff's assistance in trying to come to a resolution in both grievances in May. Slingluff began meeting with Jaeger and came up with a proposal on the nurses May 22 - the same day the memo of understanding over the extra-day grievance was written - but the nurses rejected it. On May 23, Slingluff sent an e-mail to Jaeger telling him the nurses want to go back to a federal mediator.
"Todd and I had reached a tentative agreement … but the nurses … want an extra contract for 10 extra days, which is the same thing that counselors and health aides get. They come in extra days (at school registration) and have an extra-duty contract. The nurses want the same thing," Slingluff said.
Slingluff said AEA must now appoint a bargaining team, with a majority of the members being nurses, to meet with the district and federal mediator in hopes of getting the issue resolved before the last week in July. If resolved by then, the nurses would have the option of working the 10 days before school starts on Aug. 6.
"This is not a major cost item relatively speaking, so I think there will be some good effort (on both sides) to get this issue resolved" before school starts, Slingluff explained.
Lewandowski said he is concerned about the nurses' grievance because the issue centers on employees being coerced to work without pay.
"The nurses were asked to come in," he said. "They were told it would help with registration. Were they forced? No. But they were told, 'We need you.' If your boss says that to you … it tells you that you better do it. I think that is coercion."
In regard to the extra-day grievance, Lewandowski said the association filed a letter with Balentine "sometime in the fall" after Jaeger's initial denial of the grievance, asking to have the issue placed on the governing board agenda, but that never occurred.
"I've never gotten a written request to have this go to level four (the governing board)," said Jaeger. "I've had conversations with John (Lewandowski) where he said he wanted it to go to level four, but I've never gotten anything in writing … (and) the board doesn't have to agree to hear every grievance, only if it is a valid grievance."
Hank Rowe, former president of the AEA and the person who'd been handling the extra-day grievance for Lewandowski, said he never sent anything in writing to Balentine.
"Why hasn't it gotten to the school board? I've gotten different answers, one being the amount of time they've spent on student suspensions this year has eaten up their time," said Slingluff. "The other thing was the question of whether (this grievance) is appropriate for the board (to hear) … the process was not effectively implemented by either party. I think both parties got distracted elsewhere and did not pay attention to it as being the priority that they agreed that it was when it was filed."
Boardmember Mike Prout confirmed that nothing concerning either grievance has come before the governing board "because it wouldn't be appropriate - that is not how grievances are handled."
"We haven't been brought into the situation, other than to be informed that there were two (class-action) grievances," Prout said. "We haven't been asked to take any action."
Jaeger said it is "funny" to him that "people think 301 is one pot of money" only to be used for teachers.
"We negotiated a contract this year," he said. "The teachers agreed to something. We didn't negotiate a specific (money) figure for the extra day, but they knew what the school year was - it is written right there in the contract: You will teach 178 days and, depending on the money we get from the state, you will get this amount or that amount for your salary. The extra day is included in the … raise they get. The 301 money is for everything that goes with the added days - it is for food service, utilities, transportation, etc. It is not in any way designated just for teachers."
Slingluff said he is advising the local union on ways to make sure the process of resolving grievances moves forward in a way that keeps "people focused on the goals," and agreed that 301 funds go toward more than just teachers. However, he said, districts "have a high degree of flexibility where things are spent" out of the maintenance and operation budget.
"If a district expands the contract year, why should teachers suffer essentially a daily loss of pay? From the teachers' perspective, it would be that the (maintenance and operation) budget is really just a plan with built-in priorities … so the money should be found in that budget to pay the teachers," he said.