Shorewood grievance committee sets up procedures for employee discipline

Termination, safety issues to be hammered out before Sept. 27

Sept. 14, 2011

Shorewood - The Shorewood School Board came one step closer to finalizing a new grievance policy Tuesday night by examining and discussing a partly completed, revamped policy.

The new grievance policy is required by Act 10 - the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill - to be part of the new district employee handbook. The School Board rejected an earlier version of the grievance policy in August because members felt that the creation of the policy wasn't collaborative enough with teachers, community members and other stakeholders as well as imbalanced in favor of the School Board.

The reworked grievance policy was constructed by the Grievance Procedure Committee, composed of teachers, parents, administrators, and board members. Head of committee David Cobb, who presented the policy to the School Board, was confident in the thoroughness of the committee's work.

"Every question you could image and more have been brought up," Cobb told the board.

How the new policy works

Act 10 requires that employee handbooks have a grievance system that addresses employee termination, discipline and workplace safety grievances. Cobb presented a fleshed out version of the employee discipline grievance process to the board, and said that separate processes for termination and safety grievances will be modeled similarly and presented sometime next week.

The new process begins with a grievant informally meeting with their principal to resolve the complaint. If the employee is unable to resolve the complaint, he or she would then have to submit a detailed grievance to the superintendent, who would then gather information, interview necessary people, and issue a decision to uphold the disciplinary action, modify it, or remove it. If the employee isn't satisfied, with the superintendent's decision, he or she could then appeal for an Impartial Hearing Officer who would review the prior decision, and either resolve the complaint or send it back to the superintendent. Should the employee be unsatisfied with the IHO's decision, he or she could lastly appeal to the School Board, which would have the final authority.

The policy, according to Cobb, is designed to resolve the matter as quickly as possible without compromising fairness.

"We would want there to be a possibility of resolution at every step in the process," Cobb said.

However, Cobb said that the committee doesn't want employees to take advantage of the process as a sort of block to disciplinary actions.

"We're going to want to set up a way to have people learn what's a proper time and way to file a grievance," he said. "We don't want people to be filing grievances in a cavalier sort of way."

Key differences

The biggest difference between the other districts' policies and the presented policy, according to School Board and Grievance Procedure Committee member Colin Plese, is the role and selection of the IHO.

"The IHO is fact-finding in other policies," said Plese, "but (the committee) has set it up so the fact finding is done on the school or superintendent level, and the IHO is in more of an appellate role, to find out if the process before was fair and just."

Whereas the School Board would select an IHO in the previous version of the policy, the new policy suggests that an IHO be selected by a collaborative effort by various stakeholder groups, much in the same way the new policy itself is being made.

"It should be done in a way that supports fairness and openness in the community," said Cobb. "Whoever is picked, all shareholders are comfortable."

What remains to be decided is whether a new IHO will be selected on a case-by-case or annual basis, and whether the School Board will need a unanimous or majority decision to overturn an IHO's decision.

The Grievance Procedure Committee will decide on the remaining details of the policy and finish the termination and workplace safety grievance procedures before the Sept. 27 School Board meeting, at which time the board could vote to approve it and have it in place by Oct. 1.

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