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Athens school employees want grievance hearing

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — Athens school employees told board members they have been disrespected, intimidated and harassed and that their efforts to fix salaries and job descriptions have been sabotaged.

The employees wanted to hold a public grievance hearing at Thursday night's Athens City Board of Education meeting, but board attorney Shane Black said they did not meet the requirements of a grievance hearing.

Board Chairman Larry Keenum said that since it was not a grievance hearing, he could set a time limit for them to air complaints.

Keenum gave the employees from 6:40 p.m. to 7:20 p.m.

Alabama Education Association representative Emmitt Jimmar said the complaints stemmed from a July board meeting at which representatives of employee organizations asked the board to address the salary matrix and some job descriptions.

Donna McDaniel, vice president of Athens City Educators, said software technicians, and computer and literacy lab managers are placed under teachers' aides on the salary matrix. She said they need new job descriptions and different placement on the matrix.

Addressing the issues

The board created a committee of board members and employees to address the issue. McDaniel said she was given one day's notice by e-mail about the first and only meeting, and that two board members were unable to attend.

The state's open meetings law states that all standing, special or advisory committees or subcommittees of government entities must follow the same laws regarding notice and public access. For example, regular meetings of such committee require seven day's notice to the public.

McDaniel said Keenum attended and immediately asked, "What do y'all want?"

"That took us off guard," she said. "We stated our same concerns again."

She said Keenum told her Superintendent Orman Bridges Jr. and Finance Director Barry Hamilton would get back with them about the issue.

"The committee did no fact finding," she said. "I thought we would look at job descriptions and salaries."

McDaniel said it concerned her that the meeting was held even when the other two board members were not able to attend.

Jane Farmer, president of the support personnel's group, said that on Oct. 18, she came before the board again to ask about the status of the committee.

"I was told the committee had done its job, and if I was unhappy, I could file a grievance," Farmer said, adding that Keenum became red-faced and appeared in a rage when addressing her.

Farmer said she felt Keenum attacked her publicly and that he harassed, intimidated and threatened her.

Board members Mae Mason and Sabrina Holt apologized to the employees for them feeling threatened or intimidated.

Keenum said, "If I offended you with my tone, my bluntness, my truthfulness, or my red face, I apologize. But I don't apologize for protecting the financial integrity of this system."

Keenum said double-digit years of sales tax growth may "come to an end," and that sometimes the board has to make a decision that is best for the whole system.

Hamilton said he is working on job descriptions, and has received input from employees and principals. Keenum said the employee representatives can review Hamilton's recommendations and address the board at a future meeting with any concerns before the board takes action on the recommendations.

"I hope we can get along and discuss these problems," said Al Wassum, president of Athens Educators. "That was our intention from the get-go, was to work together."

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