Monday, July 23, 2012

Teachers improperly denied “voice” and improperly required to attend after hours school concerts

The Neshaminy, Pennsylvania School District and the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers are parties to two recent arbitration decisions. In the first, Arbitrator Thomas McConnell found that the School District failed to give the Teacher’s Association “voice and status equal to other members of the committee” as required by the collective bargaining agreement. Arbitrator McConnell’s award can be found here.

The issue involved the District’s scheduling of the agenda for one of the in-service days referenced in the cba. The parties had a practice of scheduling three in-service days throughout the year. One was a District in-service day for which the District determined the agenda, a second was a Building in-service day for which the staff typically set the agenda, and the third was a split day with half the agenda set by the District and the other half determined by the staff with input from the administration. The grievance claimed that the District violated the cba by imposing a requirement that the building agenda include one segment exclusively devoted to state mandated proctor training. In agreement with the Association the arbitrator concluded that the District violated the contract’s requirement that “[w]hen any committee is established by the District which includes Employees, those Employees shall have voice and status equal with other members of the committee in the development of recommendations” by unilaterally mandating the inclusion of the training on the building portion of the agenda. Rejecting the District’s reliance on its contractual right to “final authority in matters of educational policy and developments” the Arbitrator noted:

While understandably each party wants to stake out positions in relation to ultimate rights, this case really underscores that the “marketplace of ideas” engendered by a collective process could have uncovered options-as it had in the past- which might very well have produced resolution to a problem rather than a conflict.

In a second case, Arbitrator James Darby found that the District violated the agreement by requiring elementary school music teachers to attend evening concerts without additional compensation for doing so. The District’s bargaining website links to the
award. The District argued that attendance at the concerts was an expectation of the teacher’s job and no additional compensation was required. The Federation maintained that teachers had always voluntarily attended the concerts, but they could not be required to do so.

Noting that the contract provides that the “normal work day” for classroom teachers is seven hours, Arbitrator Darby concluded that while the language clearly and unambiguously requires teachers to work a seven hour day, “[i]t also means that the District cannot expect teachers to work more than seven hours gratis.” He recognized that it might make little sense that a teacher who spent considerable time preparing students for the evening concerts could unilaterally decide to forego the concert, he concluded this was an operational, not a contractual, issue. Arbitrator Darby concluded:

 Teachers could reasonably be required to specify their attendance intentions well in advance of the concert for planning purposes. Concerts can be held during the normal workday, as has been done in the past. In any case, this operational concern cannot change the plain meaning of the parties’ Agreement and the seven-hour provision.

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