Wednesday, February 27, 2008

We shall fight on to the last of your money

Hah! Brain trust? NEISD Administration? The two shall never meet.

Picture from last NEISD Board meeting, guess which one Richard Middleton is.

Ken Rodriguez: NEISD's refusal to pay teacher doesn't pass common-sense test
San Antonio Express-News

The brain trust of the North East Independent School District does not appear to be smarter than a fifth-grader.
Consider the case of John Kelley, former special-ed biology teacher at Lee High School.

In June 2001, Kelley worked as an usher at graduation ceremonies. Since commencement occurred days after he says his teaching contract expired, Kelley asked to be compensated for the extra time worked.

NEISD denied the request. Kelley appealed. Almost seven years later, NEISD has spent more than $68,000 in legal fees fighting Kelley's claim to $209.52.

A Bexar County Court judge recently ordered NEISD to pay Kelley for the extra day, plus interest and his legal fees. The district will appeal.
Both sides are bracing for a fight that could reach the state Supreme Court.

"In 2001, I would not have predicted we'd be doing this in 2008," says Tom Cummins, executive director of North East chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. "I never thought this would go past the superintendent."

Technically, the legal dispute centers largely on wording in Kelley's contract. Did he work beyond his contractual obligation or didn't he? But the larger battle appears to be about district control.
Can NEISD call teachers into work on certain weekends and summer days within a 10-month contractual window without additional compensation?

The district says "yes." Kelley says "no."

"It's a power struggle over workers' rights," says Kelley, now a newspaper editor in Corpus Christi.

Kelley says he worked the 187 days required by the state, and ushered on the 188th, June 4, 2001. Pay up.

NEISD says teachers work on state-mandated 10-month contracts, and Kelley's 188th day fell within that window: Aug. 7, 2000 to June 7, 2001. No extra payment required.
Two years ago, Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott agreed that Kelley's contract required only 187 workdays. Two weeks ago, Judge David Rodriguez ordered NEISD to pay.

What a price. Kelley's legal fees are more than $46,000, and Rodriguez also ordered NEISD to continue paying those fees if the district appealed.

Meanwhile, one document shows NEISD's own legal fees totaled $68,217.21 from Jan. 1, 2001, through Aug. 15, 2007. No telling how much more it's shelled out since.

District Superintendent Richard Middleton defends the fight on financial grounds. If not appealed, Middleton said in a written statement, the ruling "would result in a significant increase in the cost of education." He also said "the District's appeal is intended to save taxpayers money in the long run."

Cummins doesn't follow the logic. He laughs. Others scoff. "North East should compensate that teacher," one non-NEISD school official says.

The Northside Independent School District doesn't require teachers to work when graduation exercises fall after the 187-day contracted period. The district solicits volunteers and other employees still under contract.

NEISD? More than a few teachers say they feel coerced to work on noncontracted days. One recently left NEISD over that very issue for another local school district. "The attitude was, 'You need to be here because kids are No. 1,'" the teacher says. "But my own kids count for something, too."

NEISD says Travis County has proper jurisdiction over the Kelley case. And that's another reason to appeal. In the end, NEISD is sure taxpayers will appreciate the money spent in this principled fight.