Raymond School District News


Raymond District Files Unfair Labor Practice Complaint Against Teachers’ Union Over Arbitration of Grievance
By Leslie O’Donnell   8-30-18

Describing it as an effort to save the cost of an arbitrator and attorney, the Raymond School District has filed an Unfair Labor Practice Complaint against the Raymond Education Association (REA) – the local teachers’ union – asking that the REA cease and desist from attempting to arbitrate a grievance resulting from Michelle Blum’s nonrenewal as a teacher at Lamprey River Elementary School.

The District argues that the grievance concerns an issue that is not “grievable” under the collective bargaining agreement between the District and the REA.

Attorney Peter C. Phillips of Soule, Leslie, Kidder of Salem, NH filed the complaint Aug. 24 with the State of New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) in Concord. The board is not a court.

The REA has 15 days from the filing to file an answer.

The complaint concerns a grievance filed on behalf of Blum. Superintendent of Schools Tina McCoy notified Blum on April 6 that her employment was nonrenewed for the 2018-19 school year. According to the Unfair Labor Practice Complaint filed by the District, on May 9, REA filed a grievance on behalf of Blum as a result of the nonrenewal, and stated that the “nonrenewal constitutes a reduction in force, and in remedy the District should, among other things, ‘inform Ms. Blum of her recall rights.’”

McCoy said Blum’s nonrenewal was not related to a reduction in force. “In short,” McCoy said, “the issue that the REA seeks to arbitrate is not 'grievable' in accord with the collective bargaining agreement between the REA and the District.”

McCoy said that while some staff received reduction in force notices, Blum was not among them; hers was a nonrenewal. “A reduction in force means there is no position for that teacher, and if a position were to open, that teacher would be rehired,” McCoy said, adding that if someone is non-renewed, he or she does not have the right to be called back for an open position. “In a nonrenewal, we’re choosing not to hire back that person.”

This complaint is separate from an Unfair Labor Complaint filed by the union against the District concerning Blum. That Complaint (see related story below), filed July 24, alleges that Blum’s non-renewal was retaliation for her union activity. Reduction in force was not mentioned in that matter.  The District denies that and counters that she was non-renewed because of concerns over her “declining work performance and teaching ability.” A hearing on that Complaint is set for Oct. 12 at 8:30 a.m. at the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB).

According to the District’s newly filed Unfair Labor Complaint, in letters dated May 16 and May 30 respectively, McCoy and the Raymond School Board denied the grievance. On June 12, the REA notified the District that the REA was appealing the grievance to arbitration.

REA and the District are parties to a collective bargaining agreement for the period July 1, 2016 - June 30, 2018. According to the complaint, Article VIII, Section B, Paragraph 5 of the collective bargaining agreement states, “in the case of bargaining unit members, discipline within the meaning of this Article is not intended to encompass discharge or nonrenewal, which shall be governed by the…RSA 189.”

In addition, the agreement’s Article IV, B, “Grievance Procedure,” states, “the following matters are excluded from the grievance procedure…2. A complaint of a bargaining unit member which is caused by his/her not being re-employed. 3. A complaint by any employee caused by appointment or lack of appointment, retention or lack of retention in any position for which a continuing contract is not possible or required.”

REA, according to the District’s Complaint, is demanding arbitration of the grievance resulting from the nonrenewal of Blum in her fifth year of teaching. The Complaint also notes that if Blum were employed by the District for the 2018-19 school year, she would attain continuing-contract (tenure) status under RSA 189.14. The REA seeks a teaching contract for Blum for the 2018-19 school year, in spite of McCoy’s and the School Board’s decision not to offer one.

The Complaint states that such employment and granting of tenure to Blum under those circumstances “is a prohibited subject of bargaining.”

The Complaint also states that on or about Aug. 20, the District, through its attorney, asked the REA, through its representative, to cease and desist in its demand to arbitrate the grievance, and said the REA through its representative declined to do so.

The Complaint concludes that the grievance resulting from Blum’s nonrenewal is not subject to arbitration, and the REA attempt to arbitrate it violates RSA 273-A:5, II (d), (f) and (g).

The District also claims the attempt to arbitrate the grievance is an unfair labor practice that violates the above RSA, and asks that the REA “permanently cease and desist from attempting to arbitrate the grievance” resulting from Blum’s nonrenewal. In addition, it asks that arbitration of the grievance be stayed pending a final decision in the case.

“The District has moved to cancel the REA grievance arbitration session” scheduled for late September,” McCoy explained. “We hope to conserve resources – both time and money – by doing this.”

She added that as the union has already filed an Unfair Labor Complaint against the District and taken the matter to the PELRB, “we need to go on record that it should not be a grievance.”

She elaborated, “the essence of this Complaint from my perspective can be best understood when one looks at the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the REA and the District, especially Article IV B (1-4). That says that some specific matters are excluded from the Grievance Procedure. The Grievance that the REA is seeking to arbitrate pertains to Article IV B (3) ‘A complaint by any employee caused by appointment, lack of appointment, retention or lack of retention in any position for which a continuing contract is not possible or required.’”

Thus, McCoy said, the issue the union wants to arbitrate is not “grievable” under the collective bargaining agreement between the REA and the District.

She said the cost of an arbitrator would be split between the union and the District. “That does not seem the best use of our funds,” McCoy said. “Rather than pay fees for an arbitrator and attorneys to attend the session, we are seeking to have the session cancelled.”

Liz Downes, spokeperson for and union president of the REA, could not be reached for comment.

 

 


Sides Differ in Raymond Schools’ Unfair Labor Complaint filed by Union
By Leslie O’Donnell   8-18-18

The Raymond Education Association (REA), which is the local teachers’ union, has filed an Unfair Labor Practice Complaint against the Raymond School District, School Administrative Unit 33, alleging the non-renewal of kindergarten teacher Michelle Blum in April was retaliation for her union activity, which would be a violation of state statute.

However, in the School District’s response, filed Aug. 17 by Attorney Peter C. Phillips of Soule, Leslie, Kidder, Sayward & Loughman, PLLC, Phillips counters that “Ms. Blum was non-renewed because of concerns over her declining work performance and teaching ability.”

The complaint was filed July 24 with the State of New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) in Concord. The board is not a court.

The District also alleged in its response that neither the Lamprey River Elementary School principal nor assistant principal had conflicts with Blum “in her role as a building representative for the Association (REA).” The response also states that “Ms. Blum’s non-renewal was not in any way related to, or in retaliation for, her union activities, which were modest at best. During the course of her employment, and while serving as a building representative for the Association, Ms. Blum never filed a formal written grievance.”

The union remedy sought is for the District to immediately offer Blum a teaching job “and take all other actions that the Public Employee Labor Relations Board deems just and proper.” The School District’s attorney instead asks the PELRB to dismiss the Unfair Labor Practice Complaint and deny all requests for relief and remedies, and grant any further relief deemed just and appropriate.

Superintendent of Schools Tina McCoy said the School District has a very strong case and will “vigorously defend” it.

The complaint lists 19 items, including one that states then-Lamprey River Elementary School Principal Bryan Belanger, who presented Blum with the non-renewal notice, “is known among employees for his short temper and his dislike of criticism.”

The District’s response takes issue with that statement, and adds that “Belanger is a caring and cooperative school administrator.” McCoy said she was “so disappointed” with the comment about Belanger “because that characterization is unfair and completely unjustified.”

Belanger resigned from Lamprey River in August to accept a position as an elementary school principal in Manchester.

McCoy said the District has had a “strong, positive relationship” with the REA, but noted that the complaint was filed by Peter Miller, who is the National Education Association (NEA)-New Hampshire Eastern Region Uniserv director.

The complaint centers on Blum’s non-renewal. While McCoy could not answer residents’ questions about the non-renewal immediately after it took place, when residents raised the matter at a School Board meeting, once the complaint was filed and named Blum, she said the matter became public.

“We have worked really hard to protect the privacy of this teacher and take the responsibility to maintain confidentiality very seriously,” she said. “The complaint made it public.”

McCoy said she was not really surprised that the complaint was filed. “I have a really good relationship with the REA on a regular basis, but we just don’t agree on this one issue,” she said. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for the teachers’ union, and they’re accessing their right to resolve a dispute, but the District strongly denies this allegation and looks forward to putting more information out.”

Blum was a non-tenured teacher. Teachers become tenured in the District after they have completed five full years of teaching.

The School District’s response also strives to correct dates and statements concerning Blum’s employment history. According to the District, Blum was hired as a half-time teacher for the 2013-14 school year, contrary to the union’s claim that she accepted full-time employment on Sept. 2, 2013. Both sides agree that Blum began work in Raymond as a substitute teacher in 2012. She began serving as a union representative in October 2016. The District’s response also corrects Belanger’s hiring date to July 1, 2015.

The allegations do not include any reference to Blum’s union activity that might have prompted retaliation, but instead cited evaluations and a request denied by Belanger for families of kindergarten students to come into the school to attend a program.

The union complaint said Blum disagreed with Belanger in May 2017 when she asked him to reconsider his decision not to allow kindergarten students’ families to “celebrate the students’ successes…. Belanger told kindergarten teachers that parents could not enter the building for ‘safety reasons.’” The allegation also states that another grade level had been permitted by Belanger “to invite parents into school classrooms for a pancake breakfast.”

In the District’s response, Phillips wrote, “during Ms. Blum’s first year as a kindergarten teacher (in spring 2017), she asked Principal Belanger whether parents attending the kindergarten picnic, which was being held outside, could go into the classrooms to see displays of the students’ work. Principal Belanger said no, because parents roaming about the school presented concerns for security and lack of coordination and organization….the second grade had a pancake breakfast in the cafeteria, which is a controlled location, at the end of the students’ syrup-making project and those parents were not ‘invited’ into the classrooms.”

Finally, Blum’s complaint claims that on April 5, 2018, Belanger presented Blum with her summative evaluation for 2017-18. According to the District response, however, Belanger completed the summative evaluation on or about March 31, 2018, and Blum refused to sign the evaluation and later filed a written response.  She received her non-renewal notice, signed by McCoy, on April 6.

Residents have turned to social media as well as to the School Board to praise Blum and seek her rehiring, but McCoy noted that it is the Superintendents' job to nominate teachers to the School Board. The School Board cannot compel the Superintendent to nominate anyone in particular. “The School Board can do nothing with this,” she said.

Residents have cited Blum’s receipt of a You Make The Difference award, which was presented at the June 13 School Board meeting. McCoy explained that the award winners are nominated by their peers, the District gathers the nominations of everyone cited, and at the end of the year, invites them to come to the School Board for public recognition. The nominations occur every quarter and there is no selection process - everyone nominated receives the award. McCoy noted that several staff nominated Blum after she had been non-renewed.

The District’s response, in addition to answering the union’s allegations, also states that in the collective bargaining agreement, “teacher nonrenewals are excluded from the definition of ‘discipline’ and are otherwise governed by RSA 189; at the time of nonrenewal, Blum had not yet completed five consecutive years of teaching in Raymond and “therefore was not entitled to receive the reasons for her nonrenewal or request a hearing before the School Board, based on RSA 189:14-a;… Belanger and Assistant Principal (Laura) Yacek had no conflicts with Blum in her role as a building representative for the Association;” and her non-renewal was because of concerns over her “declining work performance and teaching ability.”

McCoy expects a pre-conference hearing will take place before the end of August. A hearing has been set for Oct. 12 at 8:30 a.m. at the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB).

 

 


 

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

Raymond School Board Members

Joseph Saulnier
J.Saulnier@sau33.com

Janice Arsenault
j.arsenault@sau33.com

Michelle Couture
m.couture@sau33.com

Beth Paris
b.paris@sau33.com

Moe Titcomb
m.titcomb@sau33.com

To email the entire Board: schoolboard@sau33.com.

Emails sent to more than one Board Member may be subject to disclosure under the NH Right to Know laws.


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