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Teachers Say School|Board Ran Wild

GALLATIN, Tenn. (CN) - Public schoolteachers say the Sumner County Board of Education refuses to negotiate with its teacher's union because the School Board's attorney claims the Tennessee Legislature will "do away with 'teachers' unions'" soon.

The Sumner County Education Association claims the county Board of Education "challenged" its status as teachers' bargaining representative, based on the board attorney's belief that "in 60 to 90 days the issue would be irrelevant because ... a bill in the Legislature would do away with 'teachers' unions.'"

The teachers union says the Board of Education in Tennessee illegally stopped negotiating, spent federal money without proper approval, changed teachers' health insurance premiums and ended "whatever else was being done pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement."

The board took all these actions based on its attorney, James Fuqua's, "lack of knowledge or understanding about SCEA's status," according to the complaint in Sumner County Court.

Board of Education Chairman Don Long claims that the teachers' union's "status" expired at the end of 2010 because the board "challenged" it in October 2010, according to the complaint.

But the union says the School Board cannot prevent the automatic extension of its recognition for an additional 24 months because though the Board "challenged" the union's status, "the Board did nothing to 'substantiate' that the SCEA did not in fact have a majority of the professional employees as paid members, as the law requires."

"During the period between October 1 and October 15, 2010, the Board did not challenge and substantiate that the SCEA does not, in fact, possess a majority of the professional employees as paid members. On the contrary, at the Board meeting on October 14, 2010, where the matter of the SCEA's recognized status was taken up by the Board, the only information the Board had was from its own finance director who advised the Board that the SCEA had more than a fifty-two percent of the professional employees as paid members by means of payroll deduction of SCEA dues," the complaint states.

"Even without information about additional professional employees who might pay their dues by check or bank draft or some means other than payroll deduction, the information presented to the Board was that the SCEA possessed a majority of the professional employees as paid members."

The union says the Board asked attorney James Fuqua on Jan. 18 asked to comment on the validity of its October challenge. Fuqua "expressed his own lack of knowledge or understanding about the SCEA's status, but opined that in sixty to ninety days the issue would be irrelevant because of his belief that a bill in the legislature would do away with 'teachers' unions," the complaint states.

At that meeting, the Board voted "to approve a motion by Vice Chairman Danny Hale to (a) pay the bonuses to professional employees that they Board had approved on October 28, 2010; (b) pay an additional $100 across the board to all professional employees; (c) reduce the Board's share of professional employee health insurance premiums from 85% to 80%, retroactive to the start of the fiscal year and prorated beginning with the employees' March paychecks, and (d) end whatever else was being done pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between the Board and the SCEA," according to the complaint.

Before the board decided to go solo, the two side were trying to iron out details of a 2009-2012 collective bargaining agreement.

"While the parties' negotiators agreed on many of the non-monetary provisions for a new collective bargaining agreement, the three primary financial provisions for such an agreement - salaries, insurance, and fringe benefits - remained unresolved," according to the complaint.

The union says the Board "challenged" its status in October 2010, the same month the Board received $5.8 million in federal money from the Education Jobs Fund, money that Tennessee had applied for and received.

The SCEA says it met twice with the Board of Education after that, in November and December, but agreed only on distribution of bonuses, not salaries, insurance and fringe benefits, including retirement incentives.

On Jan. 18, the union says, "the Board of Education willfully and deliberately evidenced its intent to disregard its obligation under law to maintain the status quo."

The teachers also accuse the Board of bogus bargaining, "by continuing to meet with SCEA throughout November and December without any real intent of reaching agreement and instead simply giving the appearance of negotiating."

The teachers say the Board violated the Education Professional Negotiations Act. They seek an injunction and a hearing at which they want the Board ordered to negotiate in good faith.

The SCEA is represented by Richard Colbert and Courtney Wilbert with Kay, Griffin, Enkema & Colbert in Franklin, Tenn.


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