Teachers Concerned With Grievance Policy in New Handbook
The Greenfield School Board passed over the new employee handbook on Monday because members wanted more time to review the changes, including the grievance policy and the board-staff communication policy.
Teachers will begin the 2012-13 school year without updated employee handbooks after the Greenfield School Board decided to table their approval until next month’s meeting.
The 2011-12 handbooks will remain in place until the newer versions are approved.
“We’ve never had this happen before but we do have handbooks in place that were approved specifically for 2011-12,” Superintendent Conrad Farner told the School Board on Monday.
Farner told board members administrators wanted the books approved because teachers reported this week. He told them handbooks could be revisited and modified at any time.
But some board members requested more time.
Newly appointed board member Rick Moze said he had just received the handbooks Thursday and needed additional time to review them. Board member Russ Spahn has had the handbook drafts for more than a month but also asked for more time.
Last month, board member Cathy Walsh, who was not at Monday’s meeting, said she needed more time as well.
One change has union concerned
Farner said there were no major changes to the handbooks from the 2011-12 versions, other than moving the section on benefits to a document separate from the handbook.
Most changes can be viewed here.
“We are adding board-staff communication policies,” Farner said. “And we have a vehicle for staff in addition to the grievance police so they can communicate and get to the board level for issues that wouldn’t fall under the grievance framework.”
That new board-staff policy, Policy 3112, has Greenfield Education Association president Kerri Jo Patten and union members concerned. The policy, approved by the Board on July 23, in part reads:
The Board of Education has a legitimate interest in maintaining order by directing that employee communications to the School Board move initially through the chain of command to the District Administrator. Employees are expected to follow the established chain of communication as described in this policy. Failure to do so may result in employee discipline.
The policy also outlines proper procedures and sets a chain of command for staff communications to the board, board communications to staff and social interactions between staff and board members.
“While we understand the chain of command is intended in this policy, subjecting employees to disciplinary actions for talking to board members is severe and unnecessary,” Patten said while addressing the board during the public comments portion of Monday’s meeting.
“It interferes with your ability to make independent decisions based on information from multiple perspectives. As it is currently written, policy 3112 will significantly limit your access to employees … It removes checks and balance system if administration is not being honest or is no longer trustworthy. You should not be put in a position that implies you are working for administration when you work for the taxpayers.”
Timeliness an issue
Patten also stressed concerns with the timeliness of how issues and concerns are addressed in the policy. Employees are to bring said concerns that don’t fit the handbook’s grievance policy to the appropriate building administrator, supervisor and/or ultimately the superintendent, according to the policy. If the issue has not been satisfactorily addressed, the employee may request a meeting with the board in writing to the board president, copied to the superintendent and provided at least 7 calendar days prior to the next regularly scheduled board meeting.
Patten said that time frame doesn’t always work. In her specific case, she said she received an email from Director of Educational Services Todd Bugnacki on Sunday, Aug. 19, the day before she made her public comments at the board meeting. The email, she said, explained the elementary positions she applied for were no longer open.
But the information in the letter was germane to the board’s consideration and action on an agenda item at Monday night’s meeting that resulted in the hiring of several new teachers, she said.
“Because of this new policy, I could not contact board members prior to the meeting without facing the threat of discipline,” Patten said in an follow-up interview with Patch. “The only way board members would be informed of this new information in time for their vote was for me to speak publicly during the board meeting.
“Requesting an opportunity to communicate with the board should not have to go through the same administrators who perpetrate the alleged behavior. Waiting at least 7 days for a hearing is not always possible. … Businesses don’t tell employees that they have to wait 7 days before they can talk with a human resources employee, and they certainly don’t require affected employees to go through the person allegedly violating workplace policy.
“As employees, we expect to be treated fairly and have access to all board members without fear of discipline.”
An email from Patch to Farner sent at 1 p.m. Aug. 23, requesting clarification of the district’s position on the policy and reasons why it was implemented received no reply.