A Franklin County district judge has ruled that the Ottawa school board did not violate a negotiated teachers’ contract with the Ottawa Education Association teachers’ union concerning a district policy that would require teachers to pay for lost keys and to replace locks.

“The Court finds that the implementation of the key policy in question did not constitute a prohibited practice under the Kansas Professional Negotiations Act. To conclude the [school board’s] key policy is within the purview of ‘salaries and wages’ would be unreasonable,” District Judge Eric Godderez said in his written opinion. “Therefore, the [OEA’s] requested relief is denied.”

Dean Katt, superintendent of Ottawa schools, relayed the judge’s decision to the school board Monday night. Katt said the ruling handed down Dec. 7 is yet another decision in the school board’s favor in the three-year-old dispute. School board members did not comment on the case. The Kansas Department of Labor already had ruled in the board’s favor in April.

Megan Morris, OEA president and Lincoln Elementary School teacher, said she had not had a chance to review the judge’s written opinion, but said she was disappointed to hear the outcome of the judge’s decision regarding the key policy.

“I am concerned that this decision sets a precedent for future decisions that could have serious effects on employees,” Morris said. “Decisions like this could result in a lack of trust between employers and employees where working conditions are concerned. It is like playing a game and being allowed to change the rules half way through and someone is penalized.”

The initial draft of the school board’s December 2009 key policy would have required district employees — including all teachers — to pay for keys that are lost. The policy stated: “The employee will be charged $350 to $500 per key to allow district to re-key facility and reissue staff keys.”

The OEA filed a grievance Dec. 22, 2009, with Katt that alleged the board’s key policy was a violation of the parties’ 2009-2010 negotiated teachers’ contract because the school board unilaterally adopted the key policy without negotiating the terms of the policy with the OEA.

On Jan. 26, 2010, Katt denied the association’s grievance. But in denying the grievance, Katt said the board changed the language of the key policy to read “the employee will be charged the cost of replacing applicable locks and keys up to $500 per key.”

The board further agreed to “install a keyless entry system at one location in the high school and middle school,” which would allow teachers to swipe a card to enter the building instead of using a key, and that if a swipe card was lost, the replacement cost for the card would be minimal and the entry code could be reprogrammed at no cost, Katt said in his reply to OEA.

Because of concerns over “a growing number of unaccounted for keys to district facilities” in fall 2009, Katt wrote in his decision to deny the grievance, “the board felt legitimate safety reasons existed for re-keying the facilities and putting a policy in place that would require more conscientious use of district keys by its employees.”

The association filed a second grievance with the school board, which also was turned down Feb. 10, 2010. Following that second denial, the OEA filed a prohibitive practice complaint with the Kansas Department of Labor.

Judge Godderz’s Dec. 7 ruling upheld the decision made by Douglas Hager, presiding officer for the Kansas Department of Labor, who in his April 10, 2012, written findings said the school board’s key policy “had committed no prohibited practice.”

Doug Carder is senior writer with the Herald. Email him at dcarder@ottawaherald.com