Board, teachers wrangle over executive session

By Matthew Rice

 

Union leaders for teachers and support staff received different answers Monday night after asking the Granville Board of Education for an executive session period to discuss separate grievances each union filed with the school district.

Following lengthy discussion between school council Monica Duffy and New York State United Teachers labor relations specialist Katherine Kelleher, the support staff union was granted the executive session, while the teacher’s union was not.

Granville Teachers Association President Chris Cook requested an executive session to discuss a union grievance with the board, noting this has been the past practice to conduct those discussions outside of regular open session.

Board President Kathy Nelson asked Superintendent Mark Bessen if he thought the matter qualified for executive session.

Under open government laws executive sessions are allowed only for a narrow set of specific issues including but not limited to pending or current litigation and personal medical issues which may be kept from the public.

Bessen said because the contract was a public document and the residents of the district have the right to review the contract, he was of the opinion the matter should remain in open session.

Nelson asked for, but did not receive, a motion to enter executive session.

Cook reiterated the union’s position stating past practice should dictate allowing executive session, but asked the matter to be moved to later in the meeting as at that point Kelleher had not arrived.

Following Kelleher’s arrival the two lawyers debated the matter, with Kelleher arguing the matter should move to a closed session for both unions.

Duffy said she agreed the support staff were allowed to speak with the board in executive session regarding the grievance, but only because they negotiated that specific language into their contract.

The teacher’s union did not, therefore should not be allowed a closed session, Duffy said.

Kelleher said the union should be allowed executive session because they should be able to discuss the grievance “without restraint or coercion” which happen when the discussion takes place in front of the press and public against “an established past precedent.”

Duffy countered the matter was a policy issue and therefore not subject to executive session.

“Past practice does not apply if it was improper,” Duffy said, adding the decision was once again up to the board. 

Nelson again asked for and did not receive a motion to enter executive session. “We’re in open session and you’re welcome to present if you choose to,” Nelson said.

Kelleher requested a moment to confer with the GTA in the hall before returning to request the board grant and abeyance or tabling the matter for another time.

Kelleher said she needed time to research the matter before having further discussions with the board.

The board granted the abeyance. 

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