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School board, union at odds

Published June 9, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - They asked for it, they got it.

Now the United School Employees of Pasco must decide what to do with the school district's response to its concerns over a memo that told the staff to stand ready in case they needed to work emergency shelter duty.

The union had threatened to file an unfair labor practices charge against the district unless superintendent Heather Fiorentino retracted the memo in writing by Friday. Employee relations director Terry Rhum, answering for Fiorentino, wrote back but did not step back.

"There can be no question as to the fact that the School Board has the management right to assign necessary personnel to staff the facilities, " Rhum wrote. "Any unfair labor practice charge by USEP would be completely baseless and will be defended if necessary."

He stated that the district alerted the union to its plans before the memo went out, and district officials changed the language regarding volunteers and pay because of concerns raised. But the union leadership never asked to negotiate the matter.

"Clearly, what USEP instead seeks to do is to preclude an authorized decision and management right ... to fulfill necessary staffing responsibilities" at emergency shelters as required by state law, Rhum wrote.

Jim Ciadella, the union's lead negotiator, insisted at a meeting this week that Fiorentino's memo represented a unilateral change in working conditions. After receiving Rhum's letter, Ciadella said he was calling the union's lawyers to consult.

"We're in the process of evaluating our options, " he said.

School Board chairwoman Marge Whaley said she has asked district administrators to contact other area school districts in the meantime to determine how they handle this issue.

"If we would have to do it and it is legal, then employees have the right to know it so they can adequately prepare, " Whaley said. "I certainly would not care to lose a lawsuit. ... I want to be 110 percent right."

She expressed some dismay at the chain of events that led to this brewing standoff. The School Board, not the administration, has to approve contractual matters with the employees, Whaley noted.

"I would like for us to have been involved in these discussions before a memo was ever sent out, " she said. "Then it could have been researched much more thoroughly before a line in the sand was reached. But that's not what happened."

Contract negotiations are scheduled to begin this month.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at

[Last modified June 8, 2007, 21:01:04]

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