By Kay Hoffer
After several parents voiced strong support for the school board and Terry Schools Superintendent Casey Klasna during Wednesday night’s special meeting, school trustees voted unanimously to move forward with arbitration.
The issue of concern centers on a letter of reprimand given to a teacher by Klasna earlier this school year. The Terry Teachers Association filed for arbitration after their request to have the letter removed from the teacher’s file was denied by the school board in December.
“We could take the reprimand out of the file like they want, which would basically sandbag the superintendent,” board chairman Brian Morast said at the start of the meeting as he reviewed the school board’s options.
“It was recommended to me that we see what they have to offer. That doesn’t mean we accept it,” Morast went on to say, explaining he has been receiving legal advice. “Maybe they can come up with something that we can live with.”
Questions and statements shared by school trustees and the majority of those attending the meeting set the tenor of the 40-minute discussion.
“It’s not very complicated,” trustee Elton Stickel said. “I guess I’m not sure what they could come up with that we could negotiate.”
Trustee Jason Higgins voiced his support of Klasna’s decision to file the letter of reprimand.
Pam Lassle was one of the first to speak during the public comment portion among an audience of about 16 people.
“First, I want to ask because that is a union, are these people above a reprimand? I mean they’re teachers. Every kid gets reprimanded and they suffer the consequences but because they’re in a union, are they above a reprimand?” Lassle asked. “And then I want you to know that we’re all here to back you up.”
Several shared similar sentiments including Tristy Schroeber, “Our kids are held accountable, the teachers should be too.”
Others in the audience raised questions about spending money fighting the teachers union and whether the proper procedure was followed in issuing the letter of reprimand.
“The thing that I am most concerned about would be the track record against the union. The money we have expended out of the district and not really had good results,” Sherry Strasheim said, referring to recent disputes the school board has had and lost against the teachers union.
Early on in the meeting Morast referred to one such dispute the school lost against the union in which the school district had spent up to $8,000. He noted this case could likely require a similar amount of expenditure.
Larry Keltner asked if the letter of reprimand was carried out in a similar fashion as others have been given.
“There haven’t been a whole lot of reprimands given,” Morast responded.
Spelling out the underlying reason behind the school board’s decision to oppose the teachers union’s request to remove the letter of reprimand from the teacher’s file, Morast explained the matter really centers around keeping record to build on for future situations.
“The district needs this documentation so that in the event that misconduct of this type happens again, by either this employee or any other employee, we have a record of that,” Morsat said, noting the union will argue just cause and likely win that argument without proper documentation by the school district. “A written reprimand is the lowest form of punishment that can be given and still have a record of it.”
Others in the audience questioned the details and severity of the misconduct. Mike Strasheim asked if the teacher was performing job description duties or if the teacher was instructing children when the misconduct occurred “because that makes a big difference,” he said.
Citing personnel privacy rights, Morast explained the meeting’s discussion could only focus on how the school board would respond to the union’s filing for arbitration and not the details behind the letter of reprimand.
Keltner summed up his and others’ frustration near the conclusion of the meeting.
“It seems tiresome that every time Casey (Klasna) has a conversation in a hallway or on a playground that it ends up going to arbitration,” Keltner said. “It seems like you can’t find a way to manage the day to day duties without having to go to court.”
The meeting concluded with the board voting to seek the legal counsel of Rich Batterman.
Published January 15, 2014