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September 3, 2015

Claremont — The School Board has filed an objection to a "cease and desist" order sought by the Sugar River Education Association on the new Stevens High School class schedule.

The board argues that an arbitrator's June decision that the new schedule violates the collective bargaining agreement is unenforceable because, under state law, schedule changes are strictly the purview of the School Board and cannot be subject to bargaining.

The SREA, the union representing district teachers, wants the New Hampshire Public Employees Labor Relations Board to force the school to immediately revert to the old schedule through a cease and desist order. The School Board's objection was filed earlier this week with the labor board and now the union has until Sept. 9 to file a response.

"The decision to implement a particular class schedule at (Stevens) is exclusively reserved to the board by statute," attorneys for the district wrote in the 39-page objection. "Accordingly, the arbitrator's award finding that the board's decision to implement an alternative class schedule violated the CBA is unenforceable as a matter of public policy."

At Wednesday night's School Board meeting, Chairman Richard Seaman spoke at length on the board's position, reiterating much of what is contained in the objection.

"We cannot negotiate away what the law tells us to do," said Seaman, referring to the union's argument that the grievance procedure in the union contract makes it clear that arbitration decisions are binding on both parties. Seaman acknowledged the clause exists but said it is not applicable in this case.

Last week, the SREA filed an unfair labor practice against the board for implementing a new "A/B" schedule. Students now take eight courses for a full year, meeting every other day, instead of four courses each semester that meet every day under the old block schedule. The union filed a grievance earlier this year after the board voted in February to implement the new schedule.

The grievance was denied and then brought before an arbitrator, who sided with the union in a June 29 ruling. The School Board said the arbitrator's decision was wrong and voted in July to implement the new schedule. The union then filed the unfair labor practice complaint, citing contract language saying that arbitration decisions "shall be binding on both parties."

The School Board argues in its objection that a cease and desist order would disrupt students' studies, citing case law and Supreme Court rulings on the matter that the board said clearly demonstrate its exclusive authority to set class schedules.

The School Board argues that this issue is not applicable to the binding arbitration clause. The board, in arguing against the cease and desist order, said the union will not prevail in the unfair labor practice complaint.

"It is likely that the union's charge will fail on the merits and the (Labor Relations Board) will decline to enforce the arbitrator's decision on the basis that it violates the clear and express public policy, under New Hampshire law, that reserves to the board matters of educational policy, specifically including how instruction shall be delivered to students," attorneys for the School Board with the Manchester firm of Drummond Woodsum and MacMahon wrote.

The objection argues that class scheduling falls into the category of "managerial prerogatives" as defined by state law and the state Supreme Court has said such matters are not subject to bargaining.

School Board attorneys cited a case involving the Laconia, N.H., School District, wherein the state labor relations board determined "the district has the right and authority to determine whether the school curriculum will be delivered to students via a seven-period schedule or by a 4 x 4 block schedule and does not have to bargain this decision with the association."

Attorneys for the School Board also argue in the objection that students will suffer "irreparable harm" if the board is ordered to revert to the old schedule, saying such a move could affect some graduation plans and force the cancellation of some classes.

"More harm would result from requiring the board to revert to the prior schedule than would occur if the A/B schedule were left in place pending resolution of this dispute," the School Board's attorneys wrote.

Seaman said he has read on social media sites that the board is acting "arrogant" by not abiding by the arbitrator's decision and the clause in the contract that makes it binding.

"What we are really doing is ensuring the board follows the law," Seaman said. "He (the arbitrator) cannot preclude us from following the law."

In an interview earlier this week, Seaman said reverting back to the old schedule now that school has started would be "disastrous."

"It is not going to be hard work for the administration, but we would be taking kids back to a system we know isn't working. That would be the real tragedy in all of this," Seaman said.

Union president Tammy Lynne Yates said outside Wednesday night's meeting the union was working with the National Education Association of New Hampshire to formulate a response to the objection.


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