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Hancock BOE outlines deal breakers for new contract with teachers

WALTER LITTRELL • Mar 28, 2007 at 12:18 PM

SNEEDVILLE - Just over a week after rejecting a proposed contract with the Hancock County Teachers Association, the Hancock County Board of Education has advised its chief negotiator what it will accept and what it won't in the next version of the document.

The board rejected the contract - which has been in negotiations for more than three years but was recently approved by the association - at a March 16 meeting after board members said they had problems with clauses addressing workers' compensation issues, a grievance procedure, retirement incentives and general wording on other issues.

The board met in a Monday work session to go through the rejected contract line by line so they could instruct negotiator Mike Belcher on what is acceptable to the board when he returns to the negotiating table next week.

Three major issues discussed Monday were an injunction related to a proposed retirement incentive, a proposed grievance procedure and workers' compensation insurance, said Director of Schools Mike Antrican.

Regarding the workers' comp issue, Antrican said under the proposed contract the board would have to pay the difference between what workers' comp pays and an injured teacher's actual salary for as long as 450 weeks, and that could be a "potential budget-buster."

"We're just not going to pay the difference," he said.

Antrican said the board also has issues with a proposal for the grievance procedure as outlined in the contract.

Antrican said the grievance procedure is a step-by-step process for resolving complaints, and currently the process can be stopped at any step when both parties involved are satisfied. In the proposed contract, he said, the association wants the authority to continue the process even if the complainant is satisfied at a particular step and wants to drop the grievance. The association further wants to have sole authority to bring grievances for non-members.

The school board has objections to that clause, said Antrican, because "our logic is that if a member is satisfied, then the association should be as well and a non-member should not have to depend on the association. Their (the association's) position is they should have a say over anything in the contract."

Another sticking point in the contract involves an early retirement incentive the board has attempted to offer. The board had proposed offering a $10,000 after-tax incentive in late 2004, but the association took that issue to court and obtained an injunction that keeps the board from making that offer. Antrican said the board has agreed that if the association does not get the injunction lifted, the offer will be "off the table" for future negotiations.

Antrican said the association argued in court, and the judge agreed, that the incentive should be a negotiated item because state law states that anything to do with salary and fringe benefits are negotiated items.

"If the teachers don't agree to it, then we can't offer it," Antrican said of the incentive, which the board offered independently of the negotiation process.

"The association wanted to hold retirees hostage to force us to agree with other components of the proposed contract, and we're not going to do that. They got some bad advice from their TEA (Tennessee Education Association) representative, and they've hurt themselves," said Antrican. "If they don't lift the injunction, then the retirement inventive of February 2005 is off the table."

Although the board addressed some contract language changes - for example changing wording such as "must" and "shall" - no other major items were addressed, with discussions ending when the board reached a part of the contract dealing with the association's desire to select insurance carriers for such things as buildings and automobiles, said Antrican.

Antrican said Belcher will resume weekly negotiations with the association on April 3. The next regular board meeting will be April 10.

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