Dissatisfied with the Steamboat Springs School Board's response to alleged policy violations, the union that represents a majority of district teachers is considering taking legal action against its employer.
On Monday, Steamboat Springs Education Association President Brad Kindred submitted a letter addressed to the School Board and Superintendent Donna Howell that stated the SSEA is working with attorneys from the Colorado Education Association to determine what, if any, legal action can be taken against the school system for violating negotiated policies. Kindred said the SSEA should know by the end of the month whether it will pursue any potential legal options, which likely would involve a civil lawsuit.
"We took it to the only place we had an option to go to," Kindred said, adding he hopes "it never comes to legal action."
The School Board remains confident that it hasn't violated any negotiated policies, School Board President Paula Stephenson said.
"We don't feel we have, in any way, shape or form, violated them," Stephenson said. "That's been our position all along."
The disagreement stems from the SSEA's belief that the School Board continually has chosen not to follow policies it negotiated with teachers and other district employees. The issue intensified last year when the School Board declared a Knowledge and Skills Based Pay system for district employees unaffordable. The still-developing system was outlined in a policy negotiated through the district's collaborative bargaining process.
The SSEA has said that by unilaterally declaring the Knowledge and Skills Based Pay system unaffordable, the School Board violated a policy that states no negotiated policies can be changed without using the collaborative bargaining process. In addition to declaring the progressive pay system unaffordable without using the collaborative bargaining process, the district has continued to work on and implement other aspects of the pay system, according to the SSEA.
The SSEA submitted a formal grievance to the School Board in October that outlined its stance. The School Board responded by declaring the formal grievance impermissible under district policy. The board also reiterated that, based on conversations with its attorneys, it hasn't violated any policies.
Kindred said he hopes the threat of legal action will help the School Board realize the seriousness of the situation.
"Our lawyers are saying that these policies are legally binding," Kindred told School Board members. "Where we go from there we're yet to decide."
The SSEA wants clearly defined policies that are followed by the district, Kindred said while also renewing calls for a master agreement. The School Board and Howell oppose a master agreement with district employees.
Stephenson said the School Board will discuss the SSEA's letter in executive session at an upcoming meeting. No formal response is planned.
Meanwhile, both sides said they will continue to be part of the ongoing collaborative bargaining process that aims to create a new salary schedule and benefits package for district employees by the end of the current school year.
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