LINCOLN, Maine — RSU 67 leaders publicly recognized the teachers union’s rights in a joint union-administration statement released Thursday that settles a prohibitive practice complaint.
The joint statement was published as a legal notice in the Bangor Daily News on Thursday and acknowledged briefly by interim school board Chairman Regginal Adams at a meeting Wednesday night.
“RSU 67 and the MEA [Maine Education Association] are pleased to announce that they have been able to reach a consent agreement which recognizes and affirms the right of all employees of the district to have access to and utilize the assistance of their association without interference,” the statement reads.
“It is the hope of RSU 67 that this agreement will signal the beginning of a more positive relationship with the Association as we move forward with our common goal of providing the best possible education to students in our district,” the statement added.
Maine Education Association general counsel Shawn Keenan filed the complaint with the Maine Labor Relations Board on behalf of Ella P. Burr School second-grade teacher Jodi Bisson in April. He represents MEA members teaching in RSU 67, which serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag.
He accused Superintendent Denise Hamlin of wrongfully denying Bisson access to school property — including Bisson’s daughter’s soccer game — during a two-week investigation of Bisson that later resulted in a three-day unpaid suspension, the complaint states.
The complaint accused Hamlin of recognizing Bisson’s union representative, teacher Holly Leighton, as only a “guest and only allowed to speak out of courtesy” during a disciplinary meeting; of transferring Bisson involuntarily to another assignment; of rejecting grievances because they weren’t on proper forms; and of “interrogating” other union members to discourage them from discussing Bisson’s disciplinary issue.
These actions undermined union activities as permitted by law and represent other violations of civil laws as well, Keenan has said.
Hamlin had denied the complaints. In a statement released in May, Hamlin said she was confident that the accusations would prove to be “frivolous and thinly veiled attacks on the superintendent and school board. We are confident that when the facts of the matter are presented they will be seen for what they are.”
“I feel that we have held everyone to the stipulations of the [teachers union] contract, as well as school board policy and whatever building procedures are in place, and that probably isn’t something that they [the complainants] are used to,” Hamlin said at the time.
An arbitrator later ordered Bisson’s suspension overturned in what union leaders declared a victory.
The joint statement acknowledges that Hamlin told Bisson “not to enter on school grounds to discuss the facts and circumstances of the charge with anyone” until a scheduled meeting with Bisson and Leighton. Leighton was “similarly instructed not to discuss” the matter until the meeting.
The statement includes reference to a main point of the complaint disputed by both sides. The union alleges in the statement that Hamlin’s orders muzzling Bisson and Leighton were intended to “and did interfere with [Bisson’s] relationship with the Association,” while RSU 67 states that Hamlin’s intent was only to “protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.”
In the statement, both sides agreed that Bisson or any grievant “had both a legal and contractual right” to union aid in the grievance process and school leaders “will not interfere with the right of any employee to seek and utilize” union aid in any “grievance or disciplinary matter.”
Adams’ only comment during Wednesday’s meeting was to remind school board and administrative leaders and union members of their agreement to speak no more of the complaint. Hamlin also did not comment on the agreement.
That might not, however, end the controversy between the union and RSU 67. Teacher Tracie Murchison said Thursday that she will be seeking affidavits from seven former administrators who left the system after Hamlin became superintendent about three years ago. Murchison’s intent is to show board members some of the problems in the school district.
Not counting ed techs laid off as part of a cost-cutting measure a few years ago, 57 staff members — including seven of eight administrators or department heads — have left RSU 67 in the last two years.
“I will take them [affidavits] from anyone who wants to give me one,” Murchison said Thursday, asking respondents to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Murchison said she would be answering board requests for insight into complaints about the school system and its leadership.
“The board asked for a list of trust issues so I want to prove that the list is factual and not my opinion,” Murchison said. “The purpose is to prove that it is not just my opinions but the facts of many people.”
Murchison announced her intentions during Wednesday’s meeting and said Thursday that she would seek union aid, though she has already received help from a local attorney. She has not discussed the matter with union leaders, she said.
“This is really new. I will talk to them. Maybe they [union leaders] can be the ones who collect them,” she said of the affidavits. Murchison also would like the union to hold a membership education seminar with MEA members.
New board Chairwoman Rebecca Hanscom said Wednesday she welcomed public input.
“If she [Murchison] comes to us, we will address it,” Hanscom said of Murchison’s research.