Editor's note: The following is an unedited statement read Monday night by Waynesboro Area School Board President Ed Wilson:
The School Board is committed to fiscal responsibility and fair and responsible labor relations. However, we believe that it is important for the community to know and to understand mandates over which we have no control and the excess costs generated by the teachers' association with its pursuit of what we believe to be frivolous and costly grievances under the collective bargaining agreement.
In terms of unfunded mandates, Section 903 of the Public Employee Relations Act mandates that grievances be arbitrated. That section provides: "Arbitration of disputes or grievances arising out of the interpretation of the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement is mandatory." Unfortunately, arbitration is costly. There are costs for the attorney representing the school district, there are costs for the stenographer recording the testimony, there are costs for the fees of the arbitrator and there are costs associated with the school district administration having to prepare for the hearings rather than devoting their attention to improving education.
In the last couple of years, the teachers' association has filed grievances and forced costly arbitration in a number of cases. In response to the School Board's attempt to control spending by eliminating a stipend that was not required by the contract and by reducing work days for some employees, the association filed a grievance that went to arbitration. The association lost and arbitrator ruled that the employees were not entitled to the stipend that they were seeking or the extra days that they were seeking. Finding that the association's grievance lacked any merit, the arbitrator said: "There is no provision in the Agreement that requires the District to provide extra work days to the Grievants." The arbitrator further found that "the District did not violate the Agreement when it eliminated stipends ... in 2009-2010." In short, the association subjected taxpayers to unnecessary cost and expense in its efforts to increase the salary of certain employees and to force added days for certain employees even though the association had no right to those things.
Last year, the association filed another frivolous grievance asking an arbitrator not to require teachers to attend after school meetings. The association asked the arbitrator to pay the teachers additional compensation for attending the usual after school meetings and to give the teachers the right not to attend the meetings. However, the arbitrator ruled that "attendance at the after school special education meetings indisputably constitutes a 'professional obligation necessary to carry out the program of the Employer.' " The arbitrator denied the association's grievance. Again, taxpayers had to incur costs and expenses because the association did not want the teachers to carry out their professional obligations.
Another grievance filed by the association at significant cost to taxpayers was their attempt to have the district pay for dental and vision insurance after employees retired. In ruling that employees who retire prior to June 30 are not entitled to dental and vision benefits during the summer after their retirement, the arbitrator stated that the language of the contract "must be upheld to grant only the benefit clearly and expressly provided, untainted by the Association's unsupported interpretation which is contrary to the clear language" of the contract.
The association may argue that the arbitrator awarded small benefits to one employee. However, the way in which the association handled that employee illustrates the games that the association plays. For example, that employee was not named in the grievance and the district had no opportunity to consider the issues surrounding that employee, whose situation was different than the situation of the employees who were named in the grievance.
Finally, the association actually won a decision from an arbitrator, but even this too illustrates the unreasonableness of the association. The school board has long determined what to charge spectators who attend certain sporting events. Further, the school board has adopted policies that allowed certain people, such as parents of participating athletes and district employees to attend for free. However, in connection with the budget adoption process for the 2010-2011 school year, the board determined that school employees should no longer be given a gratuitous pass to athletic events. The School Board required all employees to pay the usual and customary charge if they attended — the amount of $5.00 per ticket. However, the association filed a grievance and took the matter to arbitration. The association presented evidence that a particular teacher paid $15. An arbitrator issued a decision that essentially holds that teachers to not have to pay to get into games that other employees have to pay for. We believe the decision to be erroneous and, frankly, ridiculous. This arbitrator and the association believe that teachers occupy a special place and can attend athletic contests for free, when other employees and members of our community must pay. The arbitrator has issued an Order which allows other teachers to submit vouchers for the money that they spent to attend games. The community can see the teachers who file such claims when the board approves the check list.
As a board, we want our community to understand the costs that are being confronted because of these arbitrations. We are disappointed that the association would take such an approach. Finally, the Board recognizes the hard work and valuable service provided by many of our teachers and nothing that is said in this statement is intended to diminish our appreciation of that work. However, we disagree with the unnecessary costs and expenses incurred because of the actions of some.