School board members disagree on new employee policies

By: Jeremy Selweski | C&G Newspapers | Published May 7, 2014

CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Chippewa Valley Schools now has new policies on the books regarding the placement and reduction of teachers and other staff, but some members of the Board of Education feel that these policies do not give the board enough oversight.

The three new documents state that, by law, the board is responsible for placing and assigning all personnel within the district; has the authority to develop, adopt and implement policies outlining the discharge, demotion and discipline of employees under the Teachers’ Tenure Act; shall not approve any policies stating that length of service is the primary determining factor when eliminating or recalling staff; and is required to base all of its decisions regarding staff reductions and recalls on the priority of retaining the most effective personnel.

However, these policies also delegate to Superintendent Ron Roberts the ability to develop the specific administrative guidelines and regulations that they contain. This stipulation proved to be a sticking point for Board of Education trustees Beth Pyden and Frank Bednard during a lengthy discussion of the issue at the board’s April 28 meeting. The board ultimately voted 5-2 to approve all three policies, with Pyden and Bednard casting the dissenting votes.

“I do have some concerns about us leaving things so open in terms of what we’re actually agreeing to … that we’re just delegating something in the future when we don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Pyden said. “It looks like we’re delegating everything to the superintendent, who can then delegate it to whoever he chooses. And at that point, our hands are off of it. Not that I want to create more work for anybody — I just think that we should have a policy where everybody knows exactly what they’re agreeing to.”

Bednard suggested that either the full board or one of its sub-committees sit down with district administration again to discuss possible changes to these new policies.

“Our oversight on this policy is kind of left out, in that we give this authority right to the administration to do what they want,” he said. “I think that maybe we need a review prior to implementation … to figure out exactly what this means. We’re not even sure what we’re delegating here. We’re sort of just saying that whatever they (administration) come up with, we’ll comply with. I just think we need to have some knowledge of that before it’s implemented. Maybe the policy just needs to be worded differently.”

The specific guidelines included within the policies have not yet been approved, but the board discussed them with district administration during a closed session on April 14. Roberts insisted that the policies are a necessary step to continue that process.

“These policies just follow state law, and we need policies in place in order to develop guidelines,” he said. “They are required by law, and if they do delegate, it’s just for the right of administration to set guidelines, because that’s what the law says we’re supposed to do. We can review the guidelines with you, which is what we did (two weeks ago), but we can do that again if you want.”

Still, Roberts stressed that the policies — which are based on Michigan Public Acts 100, 102 and 103 of 2011 — need to be put in place as soon as possible. He contended that tabling this item for another week or more could put the district in “an awkward position” because of the proximity to the end of the school year. If any teachers need to be laid off this summer, then these new policies and guidelines would be necessary for administrators to utilize.

“None of us really feel comfortable jumping off a cliff, thinking we have all the answers related to this,” Roberts said. “Of course, when you implement anything new, there’s a surprise around every corner. And when you do something that eliminates one surprise, it creates a new surprise.”

But Pyden countered that, regardless of the timeframe, she did not want to rush through this process and have the board be stuck with employee policies that it might regret down the road.

“I understand that we have to have a policy (in place), but I don’t know that the law requires us to have this policy,” she said. “I don’t think we need to have a policy with this exact wording. I still feel like this policy is too open. … To me, this is kind of a moving target, how this is written, because it’s giving (the superintendent) broad oversight to everything.”

Maryanne Levine, president of the Chippewa Valley Education Association, pointed out that she was not satisfied with the language of the written guidelines that she had read recently.

“I would just like to make sure that these guidelines are clear, concise and fair to all,” she told the board. “In the last draft that I’ve seen, they really don’t identify in specific detail how staff will be placed or how staff will be recalled or laid off, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

“I understand that it is the board’s right and responsibility to do that with input from us,” Levine continued, “but guidelines that are unclear … do not serve any purpose for all of us to understand. My teachers need to know the specific criteria that will be used and what will happen: how they will be reassigned, how they will be laid off and how they will be recalled.”

School Board President Denise Aquino agreed that the guidelines should be as clear as possible, but she disagreed with Pyden and Bednard’s assessment that the board should be able to supervise how district administration carries them out.

“That would really be overstepping our role — our role is just to approve this policy,” she said. “I know this is a very touchy subject and a very difficult time in education. The whole development and implementation of these laws is very disconcerting, but I’ve never known our administration to be unfair or capricious. … Every employee that ever comes to this microphone always talks about what a great place this is to work.”

Board Treasurer George Sobah added that he believes it was a smart idea for the board to adopt policies that are a bit more broad and open-ended. This, he told Pyden, would give Chippewa Valley administrators sufficient leeway to work on guidelines with all the school unions before bringing them back to the board for final approval.

“The way this works is that if the administration moves forward with guidelines that we don’t agree with, we can take that out on the superintendent’s evaluation,” Sobah said. “If he does things that we don’t approve of in his job of the day-to-day operations of the school district, then it’s our job to spell that out in his evaluation and in his contract.”

For Aquino, these policies reflect a new educational climate in Michigan, one in which the rules are changing now that unions do not possess the same authority that they once did.

“I think that anytime you go through these types of changes, it’s going to be difficult to swallow,” she said. “It’s very, very hard because people’s jobs are affected, and it’s such a huge 180-degree change from what people are used to. But we have to move on. I feel that, if anything, we have to try to make things better for our students. … We certainly can’t keep arguing over this policy. We should be more worried about what’s happening in every classroom every day than we are about this.”