Bonner County School District officials have threatened to get a court order to stop teachers from talking to residents about stalled contract negotiations.
In a letter to the teacher’s union, school district attorney Charles Dodson said he planned to get a temporary restraining order to halt union tactics.
“Your clients have acted in bad faith and … have taken the low road…,” Dodson wrote. “I would request you advise me within 24 hours as to why we should not proceed in court….”
Teachers are starting their second year without a new negotiated contract. They voted not to strike over the stalled talks, but set up a crisis committee to inform the public about problems within the district.
During the last week, teachers have called friends, parents and other residents. Those contacted were urged to call school trustees and ask them to sit down with teachers to settle the ongoing contract dispute.
The union maintains they have done nothing wrong, but Dodson said they are trying to “undermine” negotiations and bypass negotiators hired by the district administration.
Teachers have every right to speak to the public and Superintendent Max Harrell is trying to stop employees from exercising their right to free speech, union officials said.
“It is our American right to speak up and we are going to continue to do so,” said Enid Trenholm, president of the Bonner County Education Association.
“They (administrators) are not informing the public of problems … identified in a recent State Department of Education report,” Trenholm said. “and now … they are trying to stop us from informing the public, too.”
Harrell was aware of Dodson’s letter to the union, but did not return calls to comment on the dispute. Dodson has also raised concerns about the union talking to school board members and the media about negotiations.
“There is a question of whether the (union) activities are bad faith or not.
We hope we don’t have to get to the point of having a judge decide that,” Dodson said, adding the district was not trying to chill anyone’s rights to free speech.
The district has been in turmoil for several years and now faces a $415,000 deficit. Teachers took a vote of no-confidence in Harrell last year. The Department of Education also sent a team to review district operations.
The team found numerous problems with the overall budget, the special education department and recommended cuts in administration. The team’s report also said Harrell needed to be out in the schools instead of isolating himself from employees.
Teachers were angered at the end of last year when the district said it had no money to negotiate raises. Yet administrators received a 2.8 percent raise and a team from Seattle was hired for $14,500 to negotiate the teachers’ contract.
The union is now calling for board members to sit down with them at the bargaining table. Lawsuits and letters from attorneys are not going to resolve the issue, union officials said.
“We are not calling for the (Seattle) negotiators to be replaced. We are calling for our board members to be involved in talks with our teachers,” Trenholm said. “The BCEA negotiators, all local teachers, are ready right now to go to the bargaining table to find local solutions to local problems.”