The key to a dispute between the Ottawa Education Association and the Ottawa school district could come down to a judge’s decision about — keys.
The OEA filed a complaint with the Kansas Department of Labor in 2010 that stated the Ottawa school board violated the terms of a negotiated teachers’ contract for the 2009-2010 school year when it adopted a policy Dec. 14, 2009, regarding the replacement of lost keys. The nearly three-year-old issue is expected to be decided in court by the end of the year, according to correspondence from the school district’s attorney.
The initial draft of the December 2009 key policy would have required district employees — including all teachers (represented by the OEA) — 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 with Dean Katt, school district superintendent, Dec. 22, 2009, which alleged the board’s key policy was a violation of the parties’ 2009-2010 negotiated agreement 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 state Department of Labor that alleged the board had acted outside its authority in adopting the key policy because it was not part of the negotiated teachers’ contract agreement for 2009-2010.
During 2010-2011 negotiations, the board advised the association it did not want to discuss the key policy until the complaint the association filed with the labor department was resolved. The board asserted it did not act outside its authority, pursuant to the state’s Professional Negotiations Act, stating: “the board’s key policy did not create a change in the terms or conditions of employment of the teachers in the district,” and “the key policy was not a mandatorily negotiable item,” according to court documents.
The dispute between the OEA and school board has made its way to Franklin County District Court. A status review was scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday before Judge Eric W. Godderz.
In an Oct. 23 teleconference between the court and attorneys representing OEA, the school district and the Department of Labor, counsel for all parties stated they were comfortable submitting the matter to the judge based on the original facts and evidence presented to the presiding officer with the labor department, Katt said he was informed by Michael Norris, the school district’s attorney,
“The judge stated that, based on his schedule, he would try to issue a written opinion before the end of the year,” Norris told Katt.
Doug Carder is senior writer with the Herald. Email him at email@example.com