Teachers, administrators butt heads in Nevada City
November 14, 2013
A Tuesday meeting of the Nevada City School Board to hear educators' grievances with the district administration regarding retirement incentives felt much like a court proceeding — which is exactly what parents and crying teachers decried.
"I'm a little alarmed that a superintendent has turned to an attorney when I would have hoped a superintendent would have been engaged in the conversation being held here," said Howie Muir, neither a teacher nor an administrator, whose children once attended the district.
"Instead, it does appear to be remarkably adversarial for what strikes me as something meant to be a fairly low level of the grievance process," said Muir at the end of a four-hour proceeding where witnesses were called and evidence was presented over whether the district wrongfully denied teachers full early retirement incentives.
Muir was referencing school district attorney Allen Vinson often speaking for the administration, leaving Superintendent Roxanne Gilpatric's comments largely confined to a period described as witness testimony by Jon Webster, another attorney the administration and school board brought in to facilitate and moderate the grievance hearing.
"Industry custom is not to use a hearing officer in a level-three grievance," said Josh Kob, a staff member with the California Teachers' Association. "This is very rare."
Teachers' association officials were so aghast over Webster's involvement that they spent the first 45 minutes of Tuesday's meeting arguing against it, citing it as a reason negotiations broke down and that the collective bargaining agency will further challenge his presence in the proceedings.
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Among the more than 60 educators and school officials packed into Deer Creek School auditorium Tuesday, many raised hand-made signs that said "Love your employees" and "Pay teachers, not lawyers."
Nearly two decades ago, the school district and faculty association negotiated a contract that provides an early retirement incentive to teachers with different tiers depending on an employee's age and duration in the district.
In theory, the practice allows teachers the opportunity to retire early and, in turn, the district to hire teachers at an overall savings.
"If you retire under 60, you can get $23,000, if it is cross neutral or there is a savings," said Gilpatric to The Union Monday.
Vinson argued that the savings are subjective without a specific time frame, noting that the district administration would need to realize a savings in the same year as the employee's retirement in order to qualify for the incentive.
But the faculty association argues that past practice has seen retirement incentives' savings to be realized over a two-, five- or even seven-year period.
"It's all about how you interpret the language," Gilpatric said. "It's unfortunate that we had to draw a line in the sand, but it has to be clarified."
Two grievances have been filed for contract violations, and the California Teachers Association, on NCFA's behalf, has filed an Unfair Labor Practice Charge against the district for the EERA violation.
Nearly seven hours after the meeting began, the school board emerged from closed session to announce that retirement incentive savings would be tabulated in the same year as the staff member's retirement, said board president Michael P Hill-Weld, citing the fiscal challenges of public education. The board also directed staff to calculate recent years' retirement savings and report back to the board on Nov. 19 toward deciding the incentive payouts to three disputed retirees.
"This kind of behavior is exactly the kind of thing that diminishes a district's attractiveness," said parent Peter Minett. "I will assume we were all raised to be honorable people, so honor the contract."
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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