Date set for district's suit

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A July 10 court date has been set for the lawsuit brought by the Steamboat Springs Education Association against the Steamboat Springs School District.

The legal committee of the Colorado Education Association filed the lawsuit Sept. 7 on behalf of the association. The lawsuit states the School Board and Superintendent Donna Howell violated district policy by not permitting a grievance filed by the association in October 2004.

The grievance resulted from the board's decision in spring 2004 to declare a progressive pay and evaluation system for district employees unaffordable. That system, the Knowledge and Skills Based Pay System, had been negotiated with teachers and school staff through the district's collaborative bargaining process.

Association President Brad Kindred said Wednesday that applying for and receiving a court date was part of a legal process he hopes is unnecessary.

"Frankly, I hope it goes away," he said. "The SSEA is willing to negotiate -- all (the School Board) has to do is say 'Yes, the association can grieve for its members.'"

Kindred said the association has a membership of about 125 district teachers and school staff. The association's right to file grievances for those members is clear, he said.

"If you look at the facts of the matter, why would (board members) not let us grieve?" Kindred said. "Logically, for the life of me, I cannot see why they would go down this path."

Longmont attorney Richard Lyons is representing the district. He clarified its position Wednesday.

"Absent a specific statute or a specific contractual agreement, the education association does not possess the right to file a grievance on behalf of its members," said Lyons, who provides legal representation for seven other school districts in Colorado.

"The association is the recognized (bargaining) agent, that's true, but there is no policy that confers the right of the association to file grievances," he continued. "The association says the policies may not explicitly (give the right to grieve), but that the policies taken as a whole would imply that right. And we disagree."

Lyons added that although the association can participate in district policy negotiations, only individual association members can file grievances on their own behalf.

The School Board originally adopted its policies in December 2000.

In Negotiated Policy 3, the board recognizes the association as the bargaining association for teachers and school staff. That policy contains neither language conferring nor denying the association a right to file grievances on behalf of members.

Negotiated Policy 56, which defines School Board regulations for employee grievances, also lacks reference to the association.

"A grievance shall mean a complaint which has been filed by persons employed by the Steamboat Springs School District RE-2 on a regular monthly salary," the policy reads. "This grievance procedure is not applicable to any other situation including ... the results of yearly negotiations on salary and fringe benefits."

The lawsuit, if it is brought to Routt County District Court, will ask for a declaratory judgment about the association's right to file grievances. No monetary compensation is sought.

Kindred said he didn't know whether the association would re-file the pay grievance if the right were granted.

"We have some serious questions about that," he said. "But one step at a time."

Howell said her opinion of the lawsuit is based on Lyons' interpretation of district policy.

Board members, she said, have begun discussing the issue and would like more information before taking further action.

She said some board members seem open to resolving the disagreement outside of court.

"There certainly is a receptivity to that," she said, noting that July 10 is months away. "We've got time."

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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