Sullivan teachers, school board at impasse over contract wording

Rick Wagner • May 5, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Representatives of Sullivan County’s teachers and school board have deadlocked over a proposed “abolition/recall” contract change on how school closures or rezonings affect tenured teachers.

After more than nine hours of discussion spread over two prior meetings and one on Tuesday, representatives of the Sullivan County Education Association and the Board of Education declared a temporary impasse on the issue and moved on to other areas.

But the group — technically a single “team” in interest-based bargaining but deeply divided on the abolition/recall issue — voted to take up the matter at a later meeting.

At issue is an SCEA proposal to say that a tenured teacher whose position is abolished “shall” — instead of the “may” in the current contract — “at the discretion of the director of schools applying the criteria set out below, replace a non-tenured teacher and assume the non-tenured teacher’s position for which the tenured teacher is qualified.”

Those criteria, in no particular order, are welfare of affected students, certification, education, evaluation, length of service with the system, consideration dictated by law and preference of the employee.

“‘May’ seems like a slippery slope to me. ‘Shall’ seems like a little more solid ground,” said chief SCEA negotiator Teddi Adler, a teacher.

However, BOE chief negotiator Evelyn Rafalowski, supervisor of transportation and athletics, said all tenured teachers get priority for open positions for which they are qualified.

She said the change would take away the director’s flexibility. Long-time central office and system employee Martin Wright and BOE attorney Pat Hull said the change could lead to teachers being all but forced to take a job they might not particularly want or following students to another school when they wanted to change, although they could apply for other positions later.

Hull said he might try to hammer out some new contract language on the issue and suggested others in the group do the same.

Wright said the current language has worked through the closure of 11 county schools.

Tennessee Education Association Coordinator Harry Farthing said that in some systems political placements result in abolishment of positions held by veteran teachers who are then deemed not fit for available jobs and not rehired, thus forcing them to retire or go to another system.

“I have seen places where old teachers are targeted,” Farthing said. “I’m not saying it’s happened here, but I’m saying it does happen in other places.”

SCEA members Sharon Blevins and Joe Bailey said putting displaced tenured teachers on a preferred hiring list, per Tennessee law, is often far from a job.

After bypassing the abolition/- recall issue, the group approved housekeeping matters by changing contract language to outline federal requirements for payroll deductions, simplifying reimbursements for cheerleading sponsors and correcting erroneous information on life insurance, as presented by Rafalowski.

However, SCEA members balked at a change that Rafalowski said reflected a long-time agreement that the school board would pay 95 percent of the cost of the most inexpensive individual health coverage offered through the state and 70 percent of the least expensive family coverage.

The proposal would strike current language that specifies the board pays for 95 percent and 70 percent of the Cigna point of service or POS plan, which has been the least expensive of the three plans offered.

However, SCEA facilitator JoAnn Smith said she remembered that the POS language was put in the contract specifically because SCEA negotiators wanted benefits based on POS since it allows choice of specialists, unlike the PPO (preferred provider organization) or HMO (health maintenance organization) plans, not because POS was the least expensive. Rafalowski said she would research the issue and get back to the group.

The group also balked at formally correcting the language outlining that the contact would be renegotiated in its entirety by July 1, 2011, with salary and fringe benefits to be renegotiated this year and 2010 along with two additional articles from each side.

The group concluded 2004-06 dates in the 2008-09 contract were mistakes, but Adler and Farthing said that under interest-based bargaining neither side was limited in the number of issues. Farthing said he would check with TEA officials and get information back to the group later.

The group agreed to meet again May 26, June 2 and June 16, each date 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. in a conference room of the the health and education building off the Blountville Bypass.

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