District seeks to block arbitration with union

NASHUA – The school district is trying to block arbitration in a dispute with the teachers union over whether a group of 13 middle school teachers should get back pay.

The dispute centers on a change in contract language that decreased the maximum class load for middle school and high school teachers from six to five courses.

Under the previous contract, which expired in August 2006, teachers at the middle schools and high schools could carry a maximum course load of six classes at one time.

In the new contract, the cap on course load was dropped to five, a request of the union in the bargaining process. Although the new contract dates to Sept. 1, 2006, it wasn’t approved until April of this year.

After the new contract was approved, the union filed a grievance, arguing the change in course loads should be retroactive, meaning that any teachers who had course loads of more than five dating to September 2006 should get extra pay for those additional courses.

The school district rejected the grievance, and a public hearing was held June 30, when both sides presented their arguments to the school board. The board ultimately sided with district administration, voting unanimously to reject the grievance.

In July, the union filed for arbitration on the matter, which would typically be the next step in the process in a contractual dispute.

But in September, the school district filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state’s Public Employee Labor Relations Board. The filing seeks for the labor board to order the union to cease and desist in pursuing arbitration over the matter.

A hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 9 in Concord.

In its filing, the school district argued there isn’t grounds to pursue arbitration because over the two years of negotiations and public cost estimates, the union never brought up concerns about back pay for class loads being left out.

The first time the issue was raised was when the grievance was filed in May, according to the school district.

“At no time during the entire history of negotiations on the current CBA or during the public approval process did the NTU ever indicate that payments for ‘overages’ occurring prior to the settlement date were a cost item of the settlement,” the district wrote in its filing.

The district is accusing the union of using the grievance process to seek payments that weren’t authorized by the mayor or board of aldermen during the contract approval.

Bob Sherman, president of the union, denies the district’s allegations, saying the contract approved by the city clearly stated there would be a change in the course load requirements.

The change does not have a specified effective date and the union argues that means it should date back to the beginning of the contract.

“I think we have a good case,” he said.

The union contends the only issue at hand is whether that change should be retroactive, and is requesting that the district’s complaint be dismissed and for arbitration to proceed.

When Sherman stated his case before the board in June, he argued that one of the teachers should be paid $49,000 for the one class of 28 students she taught in 2006-07, using the formula in the contract for classroom overages.

The union hasn’t specified exactly how much the combined cost would be to pay all of the 13 teachers retroactively.

Thomas Closson, the school district’s attorney, couldn’t be reached for comment last week.