Sullivan County schools could have first memorandum of understanding to be approved

Rick Wagner • Dec 1, 2012 at 10:21 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County schools early next year may have the first approved memorandum of understanding in Tennessee from the new collaborative conferencing process.

The subject of the MOU was grievance procedures for employees and saw no major changes except a final appeal to a neutral third party.

However, it drew some spirited discussions and also could be seen as a warm-up of the collaboration process for addressing pay and insurance issues early next year.

Tennessee Education Association UniServ coordinator Harry Farthing said the Sullivan County MOU would likely be the first to be approved statewide.

He said only two other Tennessee school systems — Union and Rutherford counties — are actively in the process of reaching MOUs and none so far have a tentative one to be approved.

Those two systems and Sullivan are among 18 that have opted for collaborative conferencing, which under state law replaces no-longer-allowed collective bargaining. Others, like Hawkins County, are still bound by negotiated contracts not yet expired, and teachers there will decide on collaborative conferencing after the contracts expire.

Representatives of teachers, the Sullivan County Education Association and Professional Educators of Sullivan County, and representatives of the Board of Education hashed out most of the details of the MOU Tuesday afternoon and evening. Their next meeting will be sometime in February to address pay and benefits.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff to talk about then,” Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said. He said it was simply too early to talk about pay, insurance and other benefits until his staff had a clearer picture of the potential 2013-14 budget.

In a nutshell, the collaboration team streamlined things by taking language from the old contract, which was negotiated between the SCEA and BOE representatives, merging it with administrative procedures for the employee grievance process, taking out the last-step appeal of a neutral third party and adding some language to clarify other things.

Yennie and Farthing said since the Sullivan MOU is plowing new ground, parts of it could be replicated across the state. Yennie had planned to have the sessions videoed as an example for other systems but gave up that idea when he couldn’t find the resources to do so.

The MOU addresses how teachers can be disciplined for things such as habitual tardiness as well as defines the process for principals and other administrators to handle things such as bus duty that go beyond the prescribed seven-hour, 15-minute teacher day.

SCEA President-elect Lloyd “Sport” Putney and Farthing recalled that Putney put in a grievance three years ago at Sullivan Central High School because the schedule put teachers over the seven-hour, 15-minute day, and he prevailed after the matter was appealed beyond the principal to the director of schools.

For things like being tardy, teachers can receive a verbal reprimand, written reprimand, written warnings and in theory a termination of employment, although Yennie emphasized that state law prescribes a whole set of other safeguards and procedures for more serious civil or criminal activities, such as trying to sell a school iPad for personal profit on eBay or inappropriate relationships with students.

A new state law allows a director or superintendent to suspend a teacher up to three days without an appeal to the school board, which Yennie said grew out of a Williamson County case where appeal of a one-day suspension without pay cost more than $25,000 for mediation.

Still, SCEA member Teddi Adler said she’d like an impartial third party to be an appeal option after the principal, director of schools and school board chain of decision making, which was in the old contract. However, Yennie said that in more serious civil or criminal cases, such safeguards already are in place.

The group, in amending the draft, also decided that appeals could be withdrawn at any time without malice and agreed to add language that retaliation for filing a grievance was not allowed, although Yennie said that was covered elsewhere. Also, the grievance records are to be kept separate from personnel files and not shared with prospective future employers.

The team decided to take the rough draft from Tuesday and have it go back and forth between the two groups until there is absolute agreement on the final language. Then, the plan is for the BOE to vote on it at its January meeting.

Under the collaborative conferencing law, SCEA and PESC members do not ratify the MOUs. Teachers who voted on whether to have collaborative conferencing or not last year authorized the groups to represent their interests.

The collaborative group, which has nine BOE representatives, seven from SCEA and two from PESC, may address other allowed issues in the future. The group decided that although the grievance MOU would last for three years, it could be reopened and modified with agreement of the group.

“This is not a speak now or forever hold your peace situation,” Yennie said.

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