JOHN DAY – A labor arbitrator has ruled that Grant School District No. 3 must reinstate a math teacher who was laid off for the 2012-13 school year, returning her to work at least half time.

In his Dec. 29 decision, arbitrator Charles S. Loughran said the district violated its collective bargaining agreement when it laid off Grant Union Junior/Senior High School math teacher Didgette McCracken.

The arbitrator said that in addition to being reinstated, McCracken “is to be made whole for all loss of pay and benefits” during the layoff.

The ruling dealt with a grievance filed by the John Day Education Association against District 3. Both sides argued their positions in an Oct. 30 hearing in Canyon City, and filed post-hearing briefs Dec. 5.

The ruling gives the union and the district 60 days to work out how the reinstatement will be implemented.

If they can’t agree, the arbitrator said McCracken should be assigned to teach two math classes and one class as dean of students for the rest of this school year.

District 3 Superintendent Mark Witty said Monday that it’s too early to tell what the reinstatement will look like. He said the district is working to implement the arbitrator’s decision, and he has every reason to believe it can be done in the time frame set out by the ruling.

Contacted last week, McCracken said she was pleased with the ruling, and felt that there were concessions on both sides.

She said she understands the difficulty of making staff reductions but “it needs to be done right, by the contract. Everybody needs to be treated the same.”

Meanwhile, she is looking forward to getting back to school.

“I have missed it, and I miss the kids,” she said.

The grievance arose as District 3 officials revamped their offerings and shifted staff to cope with declines in state funding.

McCracken, a teacher since 1998 and a math teacher in District 3 since 2005, was notified in April that she would be laid off because the district was reducing its math offerings.

The union argued that McCracken was more qualified to do other jobs at the school that were being held by less senior staff – such as career coordinator, dean of students and athletic director.

The arbitrator’s ruling said Witty testified that the district considered various configurations, but none met the needs of the district better than the one that resulted in McCracken’s layoff.

The arbitrator, however, questioned that process. He said the district, under the union contract, “must administer a layoff according to seniority” first. He faulted the administration for the criteria used in the layoff, noting that Witty’s testimony suggested the district gave greater weight to competency and to “keeping jobs whole” than to seniority and licenses, the primary factors cited under the contract and state statute.

The bargaining agreement, Loughran wrote, “makes no reference whatsoever to keeping jobs whole.”

The testimony described a reshuffling of classes and assignments to teachers with less seniority or recent experience.

“The district chose to lay off a senior teacher by a) reassigning two math classes to a teacher who had only taught one math class in the previous five years, and by (b) reassigning two PE classes to a teacher who had three years less seniority than Ms. McCracken,” Loughran wrote. He also said cited evidence that there were six teachers in 2011-12 who had less seniority than McCracken, but were retained for the current year.

“It is incomprehensible to the arbitrator how the District could not have put together a work schedule for Ms. McCracken, even on an .5 FTE basis, and retained all of those junior employees had it not made a priority of keeping jobs whole,” he wrote.

Loughran wrote that “a school district acts at its peril when bypassing seniority.”

“When it does so it has an obligation to defend its decision with concrete, highly persuasive rationale,” he wrote. “In this case, the Grant School District has failed to meet that obligation.”

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