BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County school system’s teacher grievance policy became the first issue to be addressed in depth by the new collaborative conferencing process on Wednesday.
Collaborative conferencing replaced collective bargaining in Sullivan County after teachers voted for it last year, a process set in motion by a Tennessee law change outlawing collective bargaining and setting up collective conferencing as its replacement. The 2010 teachers contract became null and void in 2011, but in other systems, including neighboring Hawkins County, contracts are still in effect because they were renewed or still in effect before July 1, 2011. Sullivan is the third county in the state to start collaborative conferencing, according to Tennessee Education Association Uni- serve Coordinator Harry Farthing.
The grievance procedure was adopted by the county Board of Education in 2011, but if teacher and school board representatives reach a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the matter at a 4 p.m. Nov. 27 meeting, it could be formalized into school board policy by the February BOE meeting.
Director of Schools Jubal Yennie, who facilitated the first conferencing meeting but is an alternate member of the conferencing team, and Sullivan County Education Association team representative Teddi Adler said the grievance policy was the first priority.
“We’re trying to do what is best for kids,” Yennie said of the process, which is similar to interest-based bargaining except teachers don’t get to vote on the agreements reached but the school board gets to vote it up or down.
The conferencing group, which will operate by consensus instead of formal votes, chose Assistant Director of Schools Gene Johnson and Sullivan County Education Association President Athena Warren as co-facilitators.
After reviewing collaborative conferencing training and going over the process, which is similar to the interest-based bargaining of past years, the group started on the grievance policy work that is planned to conclude Nov. 27 with an MOU.
Yennie said the document helps make principals and administrators fair, reasonable and consistent across all county schools, with punishments specified to range from an oral warning, written warning, written reprimand, suspension or dismissal, based on the severity of the matter, how many times the same thing happens and mitigating circumstances. It covers school policy, city law and criminal law.
Based on the proportion of representation in the 2011 vote by teachers, the SCEA has seven representatives and the Public Educators of Sullivan County (PESC) has two. SCEA is affiliated with the TEA and the National Education Association, while PESC is an affiliate of the Professional Educations of Tennessee (PET).
Under the collaborative conferencing law, the only things subject to MOUs are salaries or wages; grievance procedures; insurance; fringe benefits; working conditions; leave; and payroll deductions except those for political activities.
Prohibited items include differentiated pay plans or other incentive compensation, which SCEA representative Joe Smith said didn’t make sense to him since that would be a thorny issue.
Yennie said that was mandated by the law change but that the system chose to turn down state funding for such incentives since it would have frozen the salary scale at its 2014 level.
“That was too cold for use so we left that alone,” Yennie said.
Other prohibited items are expenditure of grants designated for specific purposes; evaluation of professional employees; staffing decisions and policies of innovative educational programs; personnel decisions concerning assignment of professional employees; and payroll deductions for political activities.