Teachers Say New Grievance Policy Unfair

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The Payson Education Association is adamantly opposed to projected revisions of the Payson Unified School District grievance policy.

In a PEA statement issued early this week, members wrote "the revisions are unnecessary and counter-productive; the policy being considered by the board is confusing and frequently contradicts itself."

The proposed additions included a provision, which states "discipline, suspension or dismissal is not grievable."

A teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the addition was troubling.

Most grievances are usually the result of discipline staff considers unjust, unfair, or unwarranted, the teacher said.

Another proposed addition to PUSD policy states that if staff or teachers file what is considered "false or bad faith" grievances, these grievances could "serve as grounds for employee discipline."

Also a section was added that prevents a complainant from adding new issues or claims to the original grievance.

Another addition said that a grievance can be dismissed if "it appears that the grievant purposely failed to disclose information."

In the PEA's opposition statement, each proposed change and addition was addressed.

Also, the PEA statement charged "the proposed policy is so flawed as to render the policy useless."

Not so, Weissenfels said. The policy revisions were the result of legal information learned at a recent school board association law conference.

Tom Kennedy, an organizational consultant for the Arizona Education Association, helped the teachers draft the opposition statement. Kennedy said there was reason to believe the changes might be an attempt to thwart future staff grievances.

PEA members said they plan to attend the Nov. 8 board meeting and air their opposition to the grievance policy changes.

Board members Albert Hunt and Kristi Ford said they had not seen the PEA statement and could not comment on it.

Hunt added that board members would study the proposed changes at length before coming to a decision.

PUSD Superintendent Herb Weissenfels is compiling a letter to the board that would provide solid answers to some of the group's misunderstandings.

Weissenfels agreed to send a copy of his response to the Roundup for publication in the Nov. 2 edition.

The PEA's position is that the purpose of a grievance policy is to provide teachers with a means of settling disputes with district administrators and "making it more difficult to file a grievance will not eliminate conflict; it only assures that conflict will go unresolved or will escalate."

In the statement, PEA members point to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as an example of a solid grievance policy:

"The EEOC protects those who file complaints in order to ensure that all possible abuses are reported. Most government agencies encourage employees to resolve conflict by making it as easy as possible to file complaints."

The PEA statement also addressed the supposed reasons behind the policy's revisions:

"The often-stated reason for the change in policy is a procedural error in a grievance filed several months ago."

That incident occurred last spring, when three Rim Country Middle School teachers -- Gloria Joe, Ginger Sparks and Louis Crabtree -- filed grievances against Principal Frank Larby.

The wording in the grievances of Joe and Crabtree was almost identical. The two similar grievances apparently raised red flags among some district administrators and board members.

During a school board meeting after the three teachers filed their grievances, a discussion of frivolous grievances was held.

Joe contended the almost identical wording of her and Crabtree's grievances should not have created a backlash among some administrators.

"I urged (Crabtree) to use the same wording because we had the same problems with (Larby)," Joe said. "The grievance was the only recourse we had."

Larby said because the matter was a personnel issue, by law he could not comment.

In the PEA statement, members contended that if any board member or Weissenfels thought Crabtree's grievance, or any other, was frivolous or false, there are several staff ethics and staff conduct policies in place that would have allowed them to begin disciplinary proceedings.

Kennedy agreed with PEA members that Payson administrators have the authority they need to effectively deal with grievances that are false or frivolous. Kennedy said the only changes that will occur if the proposals are adopted by the board will be to add subjective language, thereby confusing a useful process.

PEA president Michelle Gibbar and Kennedy also said the membership's stance is that the current policy on grievances is not perfect, but it is far better than the proposed changes.

The school board held a first reading of the proposed changes at its Sept. 27 meeting. A second and final reading was to be held at the Oct. 12 meeting. However, in late September, the second reading was postponed until Nov. 8. The postponement was meant to give teachers additional time to review the proposal and to submit comments to Weissenfels.

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