South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

In Lindbergh dispute, both sides say they’re on solid legal ground

Last of two parts: School district’s agreement with LNEA expired June 30
Jim Simpson
Jim Simpson

With a dispute between Lindbergh Schools teachers and district officials possibly headed to court, both sides say they are on solid legal ground.

Teachers representing the Lindbergh National Education Association, or LNEA, have accused district officials and Board of Education members of not bargaining in good faith, and said they are prepared to take legal action if negotiations are not reopened. But district officials say they have bargained in good faith with teachers, and are adamant that negotiations will not be reopened.

Sperreng Middle School teacher Gretchen Moser, who serves as co-chair of the LNEA’s Crisis Committee, told the Call that one of the attorneys representing district teachers was involved in the landmark Independence NEA v. Independence School District case. In that case, the state Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that teachers and other public employees have a constitutional right to engage in collective bargaining with their government employers.

After conversations with Sally Barker of Schuchat, Cook & Werner, LNEA representatives believe they are on firm legal ground, according to Moser.

“We met with her several weeks ago to kind of discuss what our options were, and based on the information that she gave us, there’s definitely lots of reasons to believe that they have violated good-faith bargaining,” she said. “She also explained to us that this is an area that is fairly new since the Independence case was just decided in 2007 and so there isn’t a lot of precedent about public-employee negotiations. But she said in the cases that have come up since 2007, what the courts have done is looked back at the private sector, and based on the negotiating rules in the private sector, they have very much violated good-faith bargaining …”

Superintendent Jim Simpson told the Call, “We have a team of attorneys also, and they say we’re on very solid ground. As a matter of fact, we have, in their words, been totally acting in good faith with numerous, numerous examples of that. So I think that we are perplexed that they would even threaten legal action … We have already checked that out — dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s with our legal counsel. We don’t encourage that (legal action), but nor do we fear it.”

Lindbergh teachers and district officials last were at odds in 2009, when the LNEA unsuccessfully sought to expand the scope of negotiations to include topics that were considered matters of district policy, governed by the board. In November 2009, the board approved a three-year agreement with the LNEA in which the teachers’ salary schedule, insurance and tuition reimbursement would be negotiated annually. That pact, with some minor revisions, was renewed for two years in 2013, and expired June 30.

As previously reported by the Call, LNEA members voted 182-23 May 20 to reject the district’s offer of an average 3.2-percent salary increase, including a salary schedule drafted by LNEA leadership. Instead, teachers sought a 3.5-percent salary increase — an additional $29,000 — which unless other items were cut would have resulted in a deficit budget for 2015-2016.

Besides salary, LNEA members wanted to negotiate language in their agreement with the district, but that was not done.

“During negotiations, there were no discussions at all about language, it only centered on salary and that’s because we had an email from our former NEA president, Mike Kuhn, back in November — he sent it to all the members of the Executive Board of our LNEA, saying that he and (Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources) Brian McKenney had spoken and they thought it would be a good idea for us to just sign off for one year on language this year because there was some confusion and uncertainty about the new evaluation tool that’s going to be used in the state of Missouri,” she said, noting the LNEA Executive Board agreed.

In late June, McKenney asked the LNEA’s new president, Kim Scronce, to sign the agreement, Moser said, noting it was a multi-year pact — not the one year that the LNEA had agreed to — and it contained a salary schedule “that we never voted on.”

After teachers rejected the previous salary schedule, Chief Financial Officer Charles Triplett told that Call that district officials “used the amount approved by the board to improve the existing salary schedule as equitably as possible, moving every eligible teacher one step, providing small increases to the topped-out teachers, and improving the value of steps that were less than a 3.2-percent increase. The result is that every returning teacher will receive a raise, 53 percent of teachers will receive a raise of more than 3.2 percent, and almost two-thirds of the steps on the schedule will increase in value.”

In June, the board adopted an operating budget with a surplus of $449 that included the new teacher salary schedule.

Moser said McKenney was shown Kuhn’s email, but he said he did not remember that conversation.

“And he may not remember that conversation, but the point is language was never negotiated,” she said. “And so at the point that it was clear that there was some sort of misunderstanding, we asked for an extension on the agreement, from June to Sept. 1, because we wanted the opportunity to negotiate language. And the district refused to give us that extension.”

But McKenney told the Call that negotiations this year were only for salary items.

“Any language items are to be submitted before Dec. 1, as is in the board policy for scope and time for negotiations, and no items were submitted. So this was going to be a salary-only discussion year,” he said.

McKenney acknowledged the LNEA sought an extension until September, “which we didn’t feel like was working within policy — that negotiations were to end by June 1, as is said in policy.”

More to Discover