Vacation leave prompts research by EEA   

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

ÊÊ  The Elizabethton Education Association plans to research a policy decision pertaining to vacation leave for city school employees passed by the Elizabethton Board of Education at a called board meeting Monday night.
  Board members voted 4-1 to revise board policy pertaining to vacation days for Elizabethton City Schools' certified and non-certified employees allowing cumulative vacation days once lost at the end of a fiscal year to be carried over to the next year in the form of sick leave days.
  "If this policy is not adopted tonight, there will be several employees whose vacation days will disappear," ECS Superintendent Dr. David Roper told board members.
  The existing vacation policy grants all 12-month non-certified ECS employees five days of paid vacation after the employee has worked one year. An employee's paid vacation days rises to 10 days after two years and 15 days after an employee has completed five years of service.
  The revised policy grants all 12-month certified ECS employees 15 days of paid vacation per year. In the previous policy, certified and non-certified employees were prohibited from carrying over vacation days before the end of each fiscal year. Employees effectively took all their vacation days before June 30 of each year or lost them.
  The revised policy permits any remaining vacation days in excess of 10 days be converted into sick leave days at the rate of one-half day for every one paid vacation day.
   "We are trying to do something helpful," Roper said of the vacation policy.
  Board member Catherine Wooten Armstrong felt the policy could be subject to negotiation under the school system's contract with the Elizabethton Education Association (EEA).
   "We will do research to verify the contract," EEA chief negotiator Tina Parlier said after the meeting. She said the research likely would be a simple review of state law pertaining to vacation leave parameters of union contracts.
  After the meeting, Roper said the existing contract did not address vacation leave. Article 12 of the standing 2003-2004 EEA contract references leaves pertaining to sickness, personal and professional, long-term, parental and emergency matters but does not specifically mention vacation.
  Roper adamantly stated school administrators were not trying to make an "end-run" around vacation policies or school employees by passing the policy without consulting the EEA. He also noted the revised policy struck down wording that granted "other support personnel" one day of vacation time for every 20 days on the job.
  "That is not good business practice," he said. "Our finance people have researched that and we have never gone by that."
  The board voted 4-1 with Armstrong voting not to approve a plan set forth by Roper to restructure the ECS central office that consolidates several administrative responsibilities into three existing administrative positions.
  Roper's plan would eliminate the title "director of curriculum" and create a director of "professional, administrative and community services" as well as consolidating the director of federal programs, vocational education and early learning services to one person. The restructuring plan would also give the director of special education position additional job-titled duties of testing and guidance services.
  Presently, Patrick Little serves as interim director of curriculum. The director of special education position is vacant after interim director Kim Lavin stepped down earlier this month to return to the classroom. Adeline Hyder currently serves as the system's director of vocational education.
  Roper said the restructuring would not create any new positions and would have a very minimal impact on the school's budget. He said all three positions would be posted for application per EEA contract, but he refused to discuss the selection process he would ultimately use to fill the positions. Roper did say the number of interim and vacant positions in the central office had created confusion among personnel in recent months, particularly with assigning job duties.
  "We need to get beyond that," Roper said.
  As director of schools, Roper is not required to seek board sanction or review of his selection of candidates to fill administrative positions in the school system. He said after the meeting the reorganization approval brought before the board was an "above-board" move designed to keep sunshine on the selection process.
  In other business, the board of education may have skirted state law governing a board vote on business at its June 17 meeting. Only three board members - Armstrong, Bob Sams and Judy Richardson - attended the meeting while Dr. Jonathan Bremer and Bob Berry were absent.
  A measure to adopt a monthly schedule to review existing board policies came to a vote at the meeting. Armstrong opposed the measure and voted against it while Sams and Richardson voted yes.
   When Armstrong remarked after the vote that the board would have to reconsider the measure at its next meeting, Sams asked why that would be necessary.
  Armstrong at the time argued the majority decision did not constitute adopting the measure since a majority of the entire board did not approve it. Sams and Roper referred to the government rules of order manual that stated a majority vote of a government body quorum was sufficient to approve a measure of business.
  Armstrong produced a letter Monday night from the Tennessee School Boards Association legal analyst that read state law required a majority vote of a school board membership in business matters.
   In reference to Armstrong's question, TSBA analyst Vickie P. Hall wrote, "In order for a school board to transact business at a meeting, must a vote equal the majority of a quorum present at the meeting, or a majority of the total board membership? It must equal a majority of the total board membership."
  Hall referenced Tennessee Code Annotated Section 49-2-202 reading, "a majority of all the members constituting the board, and not merely a majority of the quorum, are required to transact all business coming before the board in regular or special meetings."
  On Monday night, Sams told Armstrong the board would review the legalities of the vote to see if the board had violated the law.