School officials respond to unfair labor charge

By Kay Braddock 

As members of the Terry Board of Trustees and the Terry Teachers Association, MEA-MFT prepare to meet this week to bargain over teacher contracts for the next two school years, one subject that will likely not be on the table for discussion is the unfair labor practice charge brought against the board and Terry Schools Superintendent Charles Deisher. 
The TTA filed the unfair labor charge with the Montana Board of Personnel Appeals in June, in response to the school’s decision to pay stipends to three individuals for summer open gym positions without first going through the teachers union.
“It isn’t about the wages,” Maggie Copeland, MEA-MFT East Field Consultant said in an interview Tuesday. “It comes down to the basic sense of fairness.”
According to Copeland the TTA met with the superintendent informally regarding their concerns on the school approving stipends for the summer open gym positions. Copeland said she also addressed the issue in e-mails to Deisher.
“I don’t like to just spring things on people,” Copeland said, explaining that even after the TTA expressed its concerns the board went ahead and approved the stipends.
Concerns include making other summer student service positions available, bargaining over those wages and compensations for certifications that coaches often are required to complete during summer months.
“I’m saying that there’s a whole host of activities that coaches and teachers might want to participate with their student group, but they were never allowed to do this,” Copeland said. 
Student service positions need to be ironed out at the bargaining table, according to Copeland.
“If it’s work for students then we have a right to bargain over it,” Copeland said. “They (school trustees) have the right to say no, but we have the right to bargain over it.”
But Terry School Board Chairman Brian Morast disagrees.
“We don’t feel that those three positions are part of the collective bargaining agreement,” he said, noting the contract between the teachers union and school district includes certified staff and positions for the school year.
“We could have hired anyone to come open up the weight room,” Morast said. “So our position is, it is not a certified position, we do not need certified people to be there.”
Morast points to advice school trustees are receiving from the Montana School Boards Association.
“They say it is no different than if we hired a teacher to do custodial work during the summer time. That was the example they gave me,” Morast said.
In a five-page letter, drafted by MSBA’s attorney, Aaron Bouschor, school officials contend their position to John Andrews, the investigator assigned to address the issue. Andrews will ultimately make a determination of whether there is probable cause for the unfair labor charge filed.   
If there is probable cause, the issue will go before a hearing officer where a decision can be made. An appeal to that decision would lead to a hearing before the full board of the Montana Board of Personnel Appeals, made up of five people. A subsequent appeal to that decision can lead to a district court hearing in Helena.  Cases leading to that point are “fairly rare,” according to Copeland.
“You don’t like these things sitting around and festering,” Copeland said. “If we’re right, great. If we’re not, lets move along.”
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