(School Board meeting agenda item about unfair-labor-practices ruling starts at 1:13:00 into the clip above)
One year ago, we reported on what at the time was described as an internal budget battle over the future of wood-shop classes at Chief Sealth International High School.
At Wednesday night’s Seattle School Board meeting, the final section of superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland‘s report to the board involved a state Public Employment Relations Commission ruling on a case into which that situation factored (though the case was initiated months earlier).
We monitored the live video feed of the meeting for this item (and other West Seattle matters on which we are reporting separately) after a reader called our attention to this agenda item, first reported earlier this week by Melissa Westbrook on the Seattle Schools Community Forum website. The commission’s decision, finding the district guilty of two of 18 unfair-labor-practice allegations, is published in full on its website.
It says the Seattle Education Association teachers’ union originally filed an unfair labor practice complaint in November of 2015, months after it alleged that Sealth wood-shop teacher Nan Johnson‘s class was first proposed for elimination “in reprisal for (her) protected union activities.” Johnson, the document says, was a building representative for the union in 2014-2015, more than a decade after she first started teaching wood shop at CSIHS. According to the PERC documentation, she currently teaches the first two periods of the day at Sealth and then teaches at Rainier Beach, after wood shop was reduced to a .6 full-time-equivalent position at CSIHS following the budgeting process we wrote about last year.
The lengthy PERC ruling document goes into details of disagreements between Sealth principal Aida Fraser-Hammer and Johnson dating back to 2013, Fraser-Hammer’s first year as principal, with concerns about class sizes – the wood-shop classes needed to be smaller than most other classes. In 2015 there was talk of being able to increase the class size by removing a wall, but that would have cost $15,000, and the principal decided there were better things to do with the money.
Shortly after that decision, the document goes on to detail, the principal was invited to a meeting that she later characterized as an “ambush” at which union representatives raised concerns about her leadership style. She sent two e-mails to union representatives afterward.
In the next school year, Fraser-Hammer tried to have Johnson reassigned to teach one period of wood-shop a day at adjacent Denny International Middle School, and in exchange to have Denny’s drama teacher teach a period at Sealth. Johnson voiced various concerns; Fraser-Hammer responded to them; and then the next communication came from a union representative, with the principal expressing disappointment that Johnson had not dealt directly with her. Months later came the budget battle, which is where we first found out that the school’s internal budgeting process was potentially leading to the elimination of wood shop, which drew concern from some of the staff as well as students.
Ultimately, the commission held a hearing last fall and the final ruling was issued last month. It found that two e-mails by the principal “interfered with protected employee rights,” one sent June 24, 2015, to union building representatives, and one sent to teacher Johnson in September 5, 2015. Both, the commission ruling says, could have been “reasonably perceive(d) … as a threat of reprisal associated with union activity.” (Both e-mails are excerpted in the PERC ruling document.)
As a result of the ruling, a notice had to be read into the school-board-meeting record, and that’s what district deputy general counsel John Cerqui did at Wednesday night’s meeting, as you can see in the meeting video above, after very briefly summarizing the case. The district also is required to post this notice “on applicable bulletin boards” at “all (SPS) school locations,” Cerqui noted, and he said that “building leaders” will have to undergo training on employees’ rights to union representation.