Maury County Education Association President David Huebner announces MCEA’s civil complaint against the school system based in Columbia. Photo by Clint Confehr

From Staff Reports

COLUMBIA, TN — More Tennessee county teacher associations are winning the right to represent teachers and the 2011 Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act is being tested in court.

PECCA revoked county education associations’ authority as work contract bargaining agents for teachers, an authority granted by state lawmakers 37 years ago. Contact negotiations were replaced with collaborative conferencing if a school board agreed to procedures outlined in the 2011 law.

After trying to restart collaborative conferencing, the Maury County Education Association (MCEA) sued the county school board, in Maury County Chancery Court, alleging the board didn’t follow the collaborative conferencing law, nor act in good-faith when conferencing.

MCEA complains County Schools Director Chris Marczak employed a “Google Docs” document for a Nov. 20-30, 2015 poll to see if most eligible professional employees want collaborative conferencing. At least 79 multiple or unauthorized votes were cast, the suit says.

MCEA was chosen by most voting in the poll as their representative in collaborative conferencing between the County School Board and professional employees, but MCEA sought a new poll with procedures making sure each employee voted only once and that results would truly reflect employees’ choice.

Marczak admitted Google Docs’ poll had no mechanism for insuring only Maury County teachers voted, nor a way to keep anyone from voting multiple times.

Furthermore, Marczak had available a detailed printout of poll results with voting patterns seen as “fishy” by a representative of Professional Educators of Tennessee, an organization competing with MCEA for members.

Despite that, school board members only agreed to conduct a new poll if PET agreed.

“Teachers feel betrayed,” said MCEA President David Huebner, a social studies teacher at Central High School in Columbia. “We have lost trust in our school board and our central office.”

The lawsuit says, “by insisting that PET agree if re-polling is to be conducted, the Board of Education assisted PET in a way that violates the requirement of employer neutrality and thereby committed an unlawful act under Tennessee law.”

MCEA alleges Marczak solicited professional employee feedback on a previously negotiated Memorandum of Understanding in violation of state law. Therefore, he’s “interfered with the rights of professional employees to be represented in collaborative conferencing by representatives of their choosing,” MCEA alleges.

After the board and teachers reached a new understanding on collaborative conferencing in 2016, discussions started at MCEA’s urging (and based on a stipulation that MCEA did not waive its rights in pending litigation), the board tabled the proposed MOU, which included a 5 percent teacher raise.

Even though the previous MOU expired in August 2016 and the MOU was unilaterally tabled by the board, it took no further action relative to the proposed MOU, but proceeded to unilaterally implement changes to the terms and conditions of employment that are among the mandatory subjects of collaborative conferencing, according to the lawsuit.

The MCEA lawsuit says unilateral changes by the board include implementation of the salary schedule with a $1,340 per teacher salary increase (instead of the previously agreed-upon 5-percent raise); a change to 12-month pay periods for all professional employees; changes to the manner in which pay stubs are provided to teachers; the authorization to school principals to hold faculty meetings after regular school hours in excess of the limits set out in the previous MOU; and changes to policies related to leave and other matters addressed in the proposed MOU.

The MCEA lawsuit asks the court to order the Maury County School Board to declare that the Maury County Board of Education acted in contravention of its duty to engage in good faith collaborative conferencing, and to order the board to cease and desist from its unlawful acts, among other relief.

While Maury County teachers report that morale in the district is low, everyone is doing the best job they can in spite of the school board’s and school director’s refusal to honor the PECCA law.

“MCEA membership has grown in the past year because people know that we’re doing the hard work and it pays off,” Huebner said. “We look forward to the court decision and are eager to restart the collaborative conferencing process. In the end, it’s all about the quality of teaching and learning in our schools.”

No trial date has been set.

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...