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School District One Step Closer to Finalized Grievance Policy

Shorewood school officials plan to take action on a revised policy by Oct. 1.

About a month after , a committee formed to shape a new procedure for Shorewood teachers came back to the School Board Tuesday with changes to the controversial measure.

A group of 14 parents, teachers, administrators, board members and community members have been drafting a grievance policy based on an outline written by Superintendent Blane McCann and staff. The committee plans to have a finished product ready for school officials to take action on at a Sept. 27 board meeting.

The grievance procedure, which allows employees to challenge termination or discipline or voice an issue about workplace safety, needs to be approved by Oct. 1 under the recently enacted Act 10, or Budget Repair Bill.

The committee, headed by Shorewood resident David Cobb, was formed after School Board members said an original proposal was "lacking" and "stacked in the board's favor."

"It is important that this is worked through in a way that creates a sense or a belief in fairness and openness in the process for everyone involved," Cobb said.

Much of the discussion Tuesday centered around a new aspect of the grievance policy, which all district procedures are required to include — an impartial hearing officer (IHO).

The original draft vested a lot of power in the IHO. In that plan, a teacher would first file a grievance with the superintendent, who would rule. If the teacher sought an appeal, he would go to the IHO, who would do fact-finding and issue a decision. The final level of appeal is the School Board.

Under the newly proposed policy, more power would be vested in the superintendent. Teachers would first meet informally with their principal, and if the matter could not be resolved there, the superintendent would engage in fact-finding and issue a ruling. The IHO would serve like an appellate judge, reviewing facts and the superintendent’s decision. Again, the final step is the School Board.

"All models that I have seen out there... you see the IHO as a fact-finding person," board member Colin Plese said. "Now, that initial fact-finding information is really done within the school itself and the superintendent level."

"(The IHO) is just reviewing, was the work done on that fact-finding mission and the opinion that was revealed, just and fair."

Cobb said the committee wants to change the way the IHO is selected, and hasn't nailed down a procedure just yet, but that the selection process should include all stakeholders.

The new proposal additionally dictates that as the final level of appeal, the board would have to come to an unanimous decision, which Shorewood Board President Paul Zovic said concerned him.

"It's inappropriate. It's not reflective of any other requirement of the board whether it be for hiring, personnel actions, voting on a tax levy," Zovic said.

Zovic said the board will likely have to schedule special meetings in order to give the committee feedback and guidance leading up to Sept. 27.

"The fact that we have gone this detail into discussion, makes it a better product," board member Rob Reinhoffer said.

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