Greenfield teachers who feel their 2012-13 contracts are illegal and unenforceable, have sued the Greenfield School Board in Milwaukee County Court.
Courthouse News Service first reported the lawsuit Tuesday. The online publication said the class action lawsuit represents 230 teachers, who want the court to declare the contracts illegal and unenforceable and to have new, lawful contracts replace them. The teachers also seek damages for loss of pay and/or benefits as a result of the current contracts.
The teachers claim, according to the story, the contracts violate state statutes regarding salary adjustments, the district’s liquidated damages schedule and the termination of employment.
Jim Korom, attorney for the school district, spoke with Patch prior to our obtaining a copy of the lawsuit Wednesday morning. He was aware of the Courthouse News Service story and speculated the teachers' concerns were related to issues union members raised about the contracts a year ago.
He said, however, some of the contractual provisions the union members previously objected to are not unique to Greenfield.
“We had talked to (the union) about their perspectives of the individual contracts and what their concerns were,” Korom said. “Based on those concerns, there are other districts that have similar language in them, perhaps not in the aggregate like Greenfield’s.
“Why they selected Greenfield to do a legal challenge, I don’t know. You’ll have to ask them.”
Greenfield Education Association president Kerri Jo Patten told Greenfield Patch when contracts were issued for the 2012-13 school year that teachers were concerned with several provisions in the contracts. She said contracts with similar problems were issued in neighboring districts, including South Milwaukee, Cudahy, Oak Creek and St. Francis.
"When teachers in those districts notified their leadership of the illegal provisions, those administrators worked with the teachers to reissue contracts that were in compliance with state statutes," Patten said. "On the other hand, Greenfield’s administration continued to enforce the contract despite receiving numerous correspondences from WEAC Legal Counsel indicating the specific legal violations and the actions that could be taken.
"The GEA does not hold the board at fault at this time; instead, the legal dispute appears to be the consequence of decisions made by the superintendent and/or district counsel."
The Greenfield School Board, coincidentally, approved the resignation of Superintendent Conrad Farner on Monday, allowing the administrator to become the Director of Human Resources in the Cedarburg School District.
Patten said legal conflicts between the district and its employees were occuring "far too often" under Farner's leadership.
"The GEA recognizes that such conflicts between administration and its employees are not in the best interest of children or the community of Greenfield, and we are excited that the board and the community are ready for a leadership change," she said. "We are eager to work productively with the School Board and its new administrative team moving forward, and believe that the legal challenges based on the actions of its former administrator will be resolved outside of a courtroom."
Korom was unsure of the timing of the lawsuit since the individual contracts teachers are operating under now were issued over a year ago, he said. But he also expressed optimism the issues could be ironed out.
“In a union management setting, there will be discussion how to resolve the matter amicably,” he said. “Whatever their objectionable provisions about the existing contracts might be, in theory, whatever they’re worried about hasn’t happened yet, or did happen, and hopefully we can work those out.”
The School Board has 20 days to issue an answer to the complaint.
Neither Kurt Kobelt of the Wisconsin Education Association Council nor the school district office responded to emails from Greenfield Patch Wednesday morning.