School lawsuit almost settled | SteamboatToday.com
Mike Lawrence

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School lawsuit almost settled

Board OKs draft agreement with no payments, punitive measures

A lawsuit against the Steamboat Springs School District, filed in September by a local teacher’s union, is close to resolution.

The Steamboat Springs School Board approved a draft settlement to the lawsuit at its meeting Monday night. The settlement does not include financial payments or punitive measures. It primarily is an agreement between district officials and the Steamboat Springs Education Association about how to resolve future salary disputes.

“(The settlement) allows for a mutually agreeable process if we reach an impasse in salary negotiations,” Superintendent Donna Howell said. “That’s the key piece.”

The lawsuit stems from a 2004 School Board refusal to accept a grievance, filed by the SSEA, regarding a School Board decision that year to declare a pay system negotiated with teachers unaffordable.

The Colorado Education Association filed the lawsuit Sept. 7, 2005, in the state’s 14th Judicial District Court on behalf of the SSEA. The suit accused School Board members and Superintendent Donna Howell of violating district policies by declaring the negotiated pay system unaffordable without using the collaborative bargaining process and by not accepting the grievance filed by the SSEA on behalf of its members.

Although School Board members and district officials consistently said during the past two years that they did not violate district policies, terms of the new draft settlement allow the SSEA to file grievances.

“The parties would agree to a new grievance procedure that recognizes the Association’s right to file a grievance on behalf of its members, as well as a more formalized process to resolve grievances that includes mediation, fact-finding and non-binding arbitration,” reads a summary of the agreement’s terms, written by school district attorney Richard Lyons.

SSEA president Brad Kindred, a science teacher at Steam–boat Springs Middle School, said he could not comment about the draft settlement until after a Thursday meeting with the SSEA’s executive board, which includes staff representatives from all four Steamboat public schools.

But Kindred said he was pleased with what he’s seen of the settlement.

“Initially, the grievance language looks good,” he said Tuesday. “I think we’re on the right track.”

Kindred said SSEA membership includes 127 teachers, several support staff and paraprofessionals. That amounts to 87 percent of teachers in Steamboat’s public schools, Kindred said.

The School Board is scheduled to take action on a final draft of the settlement at its meeting June 19. If a settlement is not reached, Kindred said a court date is scheduled for July 10.

The draft settlement was presented on the same night that the School Board unanimously gave final approval to the 2006-07 salary package for district employees, concluding the smoothest, fastest salary negotiating process in several years.