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More school employees may gain grievance rights

By Greg Gelpi

While their counterparts in the classroom currently have recourse if they are fired, support personnel like bus drivers, custodians and secretaries could soon have such a policy.

All employees in the state work at the pleasure of their employers and can be fired at any time for any reason, but some employers provide in-house policies to handle appeals.

While Clayton County Public Schools certified employees like teachers and principals work under such a policy, classified personnel do not. A policy proposed to the Clayton County Board of Education would change that.

"Everybody should have their say and have some recourse to go back and present their opinion on what happened," said Donna Wood, the cafeteria manager for 19 years at Swint Elementary School.

Wood was unaware that under current school policy she has no ability to appeal if she was let go from her job, she said, adding that more disparities exist between certified and classified personnel, including their retirement plan.

Under the proposal researched and written by the Member Concerns Committee of the Clayton County Education Association, classified personnel would have a chain of command to file complaints after being fired. Studying similar policies throughout the state, the CCEA pitched the idea to the board during a public comment session.

"Hire at will basically means that you can fire at will," CCEA President Sid Chapman said. "This would provide some recourse for those who are fired."

The policy could provide no protection to employees and would not be able to stop them from being fired, but it would establish a chain of command for people to appeal being fired. The chain would be: immediate supervisor, superintendent and the county's board of education. Any appeal past the board would be "governed by state law."

The policy also outlines the details of the complaint process, such as what can and can't be appealed and where to file complaints. For instance, this process could not be used to challenge the loss of state certification.

"They are basically at-will employees," Chapman said, explaining that classified employees have no dismissal rights or appeals. "Without classified employees you just can't operate."

Classified employees are support personnel, such as secretaries, bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria staff.

When support staff are fired, they currently challenge their firing by addressing their supervisor, who typically is the person who fired them, he said.

The CCEA has a "pretty good record" with encouraging the school board to adopt their proposals, Chapman said, adding that he has had positive feedback from the board members he has spoke to individually so far.

The association is also working on a living wage proposal for classified employees that would mirror that of certified employees.

According to Ed Scott, the director of personnel for Clayton County schools, there are 3,564 classified employees and 3,525 certified as of May.

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Nov. 3.