Revised Handbook Discussed: Notice of Stakeholder Meetings Should Have Been Received

By Scott Farnsworth

The revisions to the Employee Handbook received its first reading at this past Tuesday’s regular monthly School Board meeting.  It was also announced that the Administration would be conducting three stakeholder meetings during the month of March to get feedback from employees on the revisions prior to the second and final adoption of the handbook at the Board’s April meeting.  My understanding is that you should have received an email with the dates and times of those meetings this week – so look for it if you did not see it earlier (especially all you elementary teachers who were busy with Parent-Teacher Conferences this past week).

If you wish to see the entire text of changes, the revised handbook can be accessed at:

Link to 2016-2017 Employee Handbook – Revised Edition

Much of the revision is a reordering of the contents, the inclusion of directions to where information referenced can be accessed, and a restructuring of language to eliminate unnecessary repetition and provide for a smoother flow of the text.  Other sections have required complete rewrites or are new language to cover changes in policy since the original handbook was adopted.  This includes the section on “Online Forum,” the new “Inclement Weather” policies, and some reworking of the language concerning the various leave options – most notable the proposal to eliminate the sabbatical leave option.

Thankfully, and most importantly, the “just cause” standard for discipline and dismissal is being maintained.  Also, #21 of the General Rules of Conduct will be eliminated on the advice of counsel that it runs afoul of employees’ First Amendment rights.  Another positive is the reinstatement of language in the “Military Leave” section that provides for compensation of lost salary for those who must participate in their annual two-week military training.

There are, however, some proposals – and some continued inclusions – that might well be worth you bringing forward any questions, feedback or concerns you might have with them at the meetings the District has scheduled:

Inclement Weather:  There remains the language of the new policy which states that if school closings for inclement weather exceed the three days built into the calendar, the make-up days “may be done during the spring months of the same school year, however, if scheduling prevents this from occurring, additional instructional days will be added to the end of the school year.”  That is all well and good, except that the provision goes on to state:

If student contact minute requirements are met during spring months, teachers, ESPs, interpreters, 10-month miscellaneous employees and 10-month secretaries also will make up non-instructional days at the end of the year to meet working day requirements pursuant to their respective payroll calendar. On these days, teachers, ESPs, interpreters, 10-month miscellaneous employees and 10-month secretaries will be required to:

  • Report to work
  • Use vacation (10-month employees who received and retained the vacation benefit prior to the sunset date of June 30, 2013)
  • Use personal time or
  • Take unpaid time (deduct with supervisor’s approval)

As we addressed to the School Board when they adopted this policy at the beginning of the current year, it would seem to indicate that staff would be expected to come in to work for no other reason than to make-up time, since the several options given to miss these days would indicate that no meaningful activities would be planned.  We continue to believe that a simple understanding that make-up days will occur at the end of the regular calendar makes infinitely greater sense, since it gives parents weeks to plan (rather than the experienced scramble for changes in scheduled pick-ups and child care that have accompanied extended-Friday make-up schedules) and gives meaning to these days.

Employee Resignation/Retirement and Teacher Resignation Forfeiture:  The continued connection between “resignation” and “retirement” leaves unclear whether the “resignation forfeiture” policy is intended to apply to staff who retire.  Also, the handbook continues to leave out any specifications on retirement benefits and whether the old timeline of notification of the intent to retire under the “early-” or “early, early-” options are still in effect to qualify for those benefits.  Finally, the proposed revisions include the intent to eliminate the language that “consideration may be given for extenuating circumstances.”  Human Resources indicated that they would still undertake such considerations, but their rationale was that employees have asked for such considerations that the District did not see as truly “extenuating.”  Here, too, greater clarity and the inclusion of considerations that would be proper – such as, say, retirement! – would be preferable.

The Board discussed such uncontrollable circumstances as a spouse in the military who is ordered to transfer.  We have had members this year who retired when their health took an unexpected and serious turn for the worse.  Certainly there are other “extenuating” circumstances that could be listed as an “including, or similar to,” list that would show a reasonable consideration of an employee’s need to end their contract prior to June 30th.

Finally, there remains the confusing double-standard when it comes to the District’s “Employee Discipline” section with regards to Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs).  Specifically listed under the “three –step formal disciplinary process,” under the “Step 2 – Written Reminder” section, are the words: “…an employee may be placed on a performance improvement plan.”

In the next section, however, under “Employee Complaint (Grirevance) Procedure,” it states:

“Employee discipline,” as used in this policy, shall not include the following:

  • Plans of correction or performance improvement;

This discipline/not discipline conflict really needs to be resolved as, unfortunately, we have seen what is supposed to be a cooperative process of professional improvement turned into disciplinary action that – as the handbook states, may cause an employee to “face termination.”  It creates a real question of “due process” in terms of a right to representation.

There are, of course, my own personal pet peeves – the ridiculous minimum GPA “requirement” for employment (ridiculous only because, as we all know, not all GPAs are created equal! – and so it becomes an arbitrary standard – in my opinion), and the ever-popular “Employee Dress and Grooming” section – because what makes more sense than to fire a great teacher for dressing like Steve Jobs!

Look it over carefully – you are being given the opportunity to shape the working conditions through this process of review.