Arbitrator backs teachers' union on sick leave

School district did not take part in proceedings


An arbitrator has decided in favor of the Douglas County teachers' union in a lawsuit about the teachers' sick-leave bank filed against the Douglas County School District. The arbitrator's decision is non-binding, and DCSD officials did not participate in the proceedings that led to arbitrator John Criswell's final report.

DCSD officials called the arbitrator's report an “improperly obtained opinion,” and said the district continues to seek a fair resolution to the issue.

The complaint surrounded DCSD's alleged refusal to allow employees to use the sick-leave bank after the district's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the teachers' union expired in 2012.

“The district's refusal to allow the employees, who previously earned sick leave, to use that accumulated sick leave or to use the sick-leave bank, was a violation of the employees' property rights they had earned by virtue of their previous work,” Criswell wrote in his April 30, 2014 report.

The teachers' union filed the lawsuit in Douglas County District Court in February 2013. Three teachers named as plaintiffs in the suit claimed harm from the loss of the sick-leave bank.

DCSD filed motions to dismiss the case in April 2013, saying the union lacked standing in its claims and had “failed to exhaust administrative remedies” included in the expired CBA. Using an arbitrator to resolve such issues is part of the process outlined under the CBA. The district court ordered those procedures followed.

Criswell, who served 13 years as a Colorado Court of Appeals judge, described the arbitration process as “somewhat unique,” because DCSD “refused to participate either in the selection of the arbitrator or any of the proceedings ...”

Criswell said he provided DCSD full notice of all steps, and proceeded on an ex-parte basis to resolve the issues.

His report recommends, among other things, that the district recognize as valid all sick leave accumulated by all employees who were subject to the expired agreement's terms and that it reimburse the three plaintiffs their fair share.

In an emailed statement attributed to school board president Kevin Larsen, DCSD said the union's lawsuit reflected its unhappiness “with the demise of its lucrative contract.” The statement also said the sick-leave bank was “fiscally irresponsible,” unfunded and came with unlimited liability, and that DCSD replaced it with a much-improved, fully funded, short-term disability plan.

“Rather than work toward a sensible resolution of its lawsuit, the union unilaterally pursued an impermissible and unilateral arbitration process,” Larsen's statement continues, adding that DCSD offered reasonable alternatives the union rejected.

“It is, therefore, not surprising that this improperly obtained opinion, fully bought and paid for by the union and involving only the union's participation, reflects precisely the union's desired outcome,” the statement reads. “The district gives the union's purchased opinion the weight it deserves. 

“We will continue to look to a fair, impartial, objective, and lawful process for speedy resolution of the union's baseless lawsuit against the district.”

Union president Courtney Smith said the district's failure to so far comply with the ruling is not surprising.

"It is disappointing that once again DCSD has chosen to ignore a legal decision — in this case an arbitrator's ruling,” she said. “However we are committed to seeing this lawsuit through to benefit the employees of DCSD.”

Smith said the lawsuit was stayed pending the arbitration process, but will resume if the district fails to comply with the arbitrator's ruling. 

Along with the sick-leave bank complaint, the DCF filed a second lawsuit against DCSD alleging unfair hiring practices. That case has not been resolved.


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Criswell has been a registered democrat since 1960. Let’s hear what a republican judge has to say.

Sunday, June 29, 2014 | Report this

I am somewhat tired of politicizing the whole school board/teacher issues. This isn't a Republican or Democratic issue. It has to do with fair hiring and business practices. Union is not a four-letter word (or more accurately; it doesn't have to have pejorative connotations). Somehow the teachers have been demonized and termed self-serving whether they belonged to the teachers' union or not.

As a society, we have always created "bad guys" to drum up support for our purposes. Communists, terrorists, unions... they all became the "boogeyman" in an effort to scare people into thinking their way of life is being threatened.

Believe it or not, the Dougco School Board and teachers' union got along famously for decades - at least until the last few years. It was one of the main reasons our school district was the envy of the entire country and why people from all over the country moved here. They wanted their kids to benefit from that cooperation that resulted in strong schools and a great education for their kids. It seems the emphasis on that part-- great education -- has been lost. The board is bulldozing its policies without much regard to what parents and teachers want. Teachers are so demoralized they are leaving in droves or are preoccupied over whether they'll have jobs or be deemed only partially proficient. Kids, well they are just trying to get by. And therein lies the rub. Kids shouldn't just be getting by.

It's time the board and the teachers really sat down and worked out their differences. The board will tell you they highly value their teachers but the teachers will tell you that the board doesn't give a hoot about them. It is time to put all that away. There has got to be a shred of common goals in there somewhere. If not, God help us all.

Monday, June 30, 2014 | Report this