YORK, Maine — A respectful, calm dialogue about future protections for school coaches took place recently between School Committee members and two representatives of the group Coaches and Kids Matter. While no promises were made, no idea was summarily dismissed.
During a workshop session, Kent Kilgore and former basketball coach Kevin Talty laid out their argument for greater protections for coaches on stipend contracts to include a clear and expanded grievance process for them, parents and students.
Discussion was focused, and did not overtly touch on former coach Randy Small’s termination, which formed the basis for the creation of Coaches and Kids Matter. And never once was the recall election of School Committee member Dick Bachelder mentioned, although the effort was spearheaded by that group.
“We would like to create some sort of procedure, some kind of boilerplate that you can go by,” Kilgore said. “So people can say, ‘This is the process.’ If we can create something that is going to protect you guys, administrators, coaches kids and parents, that’s what we’re looking for.”
School Committee member Brenda Alexander said a committee policy lays out steps that should be taken if a parent or student has concerns with an employee, which would include stipend coaches. This includes starting with the employee, and then going up the ladder to the appropriate administrator and finally to the superintendent. If the issue remains unresolved, according to the policy, then the complainant can request to be on the School Committee agenda.
But Talty said, “What assurances do you have that that policy has been followed if you don’t know” a complaint was lodged at the lower levels. “What happens if it hasn’t been followed and it skips a level? How are you assured the policy has been followed? Should there be a hearing process for checks and balances?”
The group believes stipend coaches should have the same due process as teachers. School Committee Chairwoman Julie Eneman said the contract teachers sign to coach a sport is nearly identical to the stipend coach contract. The only difference is that teachers have a right to appeal superintendent decisions to the committee.
“So when you say there’s a lack of due process, what do you mean?” she asked Kilgore and Talty.
“They (stipend coaches) should be given 24-hours notice, they should be presented with the complaints that they could read and sign, they would know who their accusers are. Then there would be some appeal for a grievance situation,” Talty said.
Eneman said it’s important to note if teachers petition for a School Committee hearing, after a decision is rendered, the employee’s records become public, she said.
Committee members asked if the group had approached the York Teachers Association about adding language to their contract to govern stipend employees. Kilgore said he did talk with some teachers, who did not initially express enthusiasm. But he said that’s no reason not to pursue it.
“I know of no other districts that recognize coaches in collective bargaining. But let’s talk about York first. It needs to happen statewide. It would be a good leap of faith that York is at the cutting edge of making things right,” he said.
“Ideally if we could work with the teachers union, that’s a perfect world,” Talty added. “But you can set policy any time you want as to how you want to handle this. We don’t have to be part of the contract to do something right.”
“I have very actively listened to what you have said,” Eneman said. “I’m still trying to get to ‘this might happen, this might happen, this might happen.’ But you’ve given me a lot to think about.”
Gary Phipps called the concept of giving stipend coaches further protections “an excellent idea.” Maybe it’s going to take a few years, but it’s about time,” he said. “It would be nice to have something like this for coaches.”
“I agree,” said Bachelder. He pointed to a situation a couple of years ago when a mother came to the School Committee upset because her daughter had food allergies that were not being adequately addressed in the schools. She researched other school district policies and presented a solution “to more accurately reflect our culture and our food.
“You guys made some healthy and valuable points,” he said, encouraging them to undertake a similar approach and present a coherent plan for the committee to consider.
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