Union OKs suit vs. district

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The Steamboat Springs Education Association is ready to move forward with a lawsuit against the School Board about alleged policy violations.

Eighty-one of the 88 union members who attended a recent SSEA meeting voted in favor of pursuing legal action against the board and Superintendent Donna Howell, SSEA President Brad Kindred told School Board members Monday.

"We have a basic disagreement on negotiated policy, and we need to get it straightened out," Kindred said.

Although SSEA members think the board has violated negotiated policies on numerous occasions, the primary disagreement stems from the board's decision last year to declare a progressive pay and evaluation system for district employees unaffordable. The Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay system was outlined in a policy negotiated several years ago through the district's collaborative bargaining process.

By declaring KSBP unaffordable, the School Board violated a separate policy that states that no negotiated policies can be changed without using the collaborative bargaining process, the SSEA contends. The 110-member teachers union also is upset that the district has continued to follow other aspects of the KSBP policy, such as a provision that reduced the competitive market salary adjustments employees received during the past two years.

School Board members say they haven't violated any negotiated policies, a stance some members reiterated Monday. The School Board also has said its attorney doesn't think any negotiated policies have been violated.

The SSEA has been working with attorneys from the Colorado Education Association to review and pursue legal options, Kindred said. In a March letter sent to SSEA members, Kindred says the union is out of other options because the School Board wouldn't accept an official grievance from the SSEA and won't acknowledge that it has violated its policies.

"We strongly feel policy has been changed without going through the process established and adopted by the Board of Education," Kindred wrote.

Kindred said he wasn't sure when a lawsuit would be filed or what the SSEA will seek in its suit. The union has discussed seeking the 1.5 percent in competitive market adjustments its employees didn't receive per the provision in the disputed KSBP policy. More than anything, the SSEA wants a legal ruling on whether the policies were violated, SSEA executive council member Tom Fitzgerald said.

School Board member Michael Loomis said he wishes the board and the SSEA could sit down and discuss their differences outside a court of law.

The SSEA has presented its disagreements to the School Board since August, Kindred said.

Despite the pending lawsuit, both sides agreed their relationship isn't adversarial and that the disagreement won't affect the progress currently being made in the collaborative bargaining process.

"I'm very pleased that we can continue working on (the Collaborative Bargaining Team) and treat this as something that needs to be clarified," Howell said.

Loomis proposed discussing the disagreement in-depth at an upcoming board meeting. Howell said it would be helpful for the board's attorney and the CEA attorney working with the SSEA to attend and offer their legal opinions.

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