Thursday, August 31, 2006
Steamboat Springs Nearly a year after a local teacher's union filed a lawsuit against the Steamboat Springs School District, the dispute is resolved.
The Steamboat Springs School Board approved a final settlement to the lawsuit Monday night.
The settlement includes no financial payments or punitive measures.
It is primarily an agreement between district officials and the Steamboat Springs Education Association, or SSEA, about how to resolve future salary disputes. The SSEA represents more than 120 teachers in the school district.
"(The settlement) allows for a mutually agreeable process if we reach an impasse in salary negotiations," Superintendent Donna Howell said in June, when the School Board approved a draft of the agreement. "That's the key piece."
The lawsuit stems from a 2004 School Board refusal to accept a grievance filed by the SSEA.
The grievance challenged a School Board decision that year to declare a pay system negotiated with teachers unaffordable.
Teachers represented by the SSEA approved the final settlement earlier this month. Monday, board member Pat Gleason expressed concerns that school support staff and administrators had not approved the final settlement.
"I have a concern that we're short-circuiting the situation," Gleason said, suggesting the school district's collaborative bargaining team review the settlement.
The bargaining team includes members representing teachers, administrators and support staff and successfully negotiated the 2006-07 salaries and benefits for district employees in a several-months process that ended in June.
School Board President Tom Miller-Freutel said that as legal matter, the lawsuit settlement is "beyond the bargaining team."
"This is a formal settlement agreement, in lieu of litigation," Howell said.
Approving the draft settlement in June avoided a July 10 court date.
Mike Smith, an SSEA member and math teacher at Steamboat Springs High School, said teachers had waited long enough for approval of the settlement.
"If you put conditions on this or don't pass it, I think the staff is going to be upset," he warned. "I look forward to working in a school district that has this resolution."
Miller-Freutel, in his last meeting with the School Board, praised the improving relationship between district employees and the School Board.
"The existing board and staff should be quite proud of where we are now at," Miller-Freutel said. "The communication has improved dramatically."