Kerri Jo Patten, president of the Greenfield Education Association, believes a newly approved policy outlining guidelines that regulate communication between the Greenfield School Board and district staff is .
Especially at a time when board members look to be striving for more transparency with teachers and taxpayers, she said.
Superintendent Conrad Farner, however, said the policy in question, which was updated earlier this summer and inserted into the yet to be approved 2012-13 employee handbooks, is meant to facilitate employee-board communication and provide a process for employees to address concerns that fall outside the normal grievance process.
"It makes sense to have a clear process that allows those issues to be addressed, and if necessary, ultimately go before the board," said Farner, who also a previous board-staff policy that had been in place was ambiguous and needed revisions.
Virtually any performance issue not considered employee discipline would fall under the policy, such as when an employee has a curriculum concern or question about a policy or procedure, Farner said.
Patten's concerns reside mostly with the appropriate chain of command and the threat of discipline for breaking said command. At the Aug. 13 School Board meeting, she told board members the policy "removes the checks and balance system if administration is not being honest or is no longer trustworthy."
The policy states if an employee has an issue or concern with the superintendent or another administrator, the employee is to voice that issue or concern with said administrator.
Wouldn't that put the employee in an awkward position?
"Any situation involving an employee having a concern about a supervisor has the potential to be awkward, regardless of the policy," Farner said.
Farner added if an employee has a concern about an immediate supervisor and is not comfortable bringing the concern to that person, the logical step would be to go to that individual’s supervisor. And in the case of the superintendent, the concern should go to the School Board president.
"All employees, including supervisors, deserve to have their side of a story told and be able to protect their reputation against false accusations,” Farner said. "There are incredibly complex and potentially costly situations when individuals are not treated properly. Dedicated employees should have mechanisms in place to address concerns, and dedicated supervisors who have to make difficult decisions that are not always popular also have to be treated fairly."
Discipline types hard to predict
The discipline piece of the policy is not spelled out, and Patten told the board "subjecting employees to disciplinary actions for talking to board members is severe and unnecessary." But Farner said the type or level of discipline for breaking the chain of command as outlined in the policy is hard, if not impossible to predict.
"If breaking the chain of command was the only appropriate course of action, there may be no discipline," he said. "Any disciplinary action involves looking at all the factors involved, determining if there are any extenuating circumstances, what the individual work histories are of those involved, how other similar situations have been handled, and many other considerations."
The school board could take action on the handbooks, which include the board-staff communication policy, at its next regular meeting Sept. 24.