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Rocklin Unified nurses to get jobs back?

Superintendent says he will recommend the district appeal
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald editor
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The California Public Employment Relations Board found last week that the Rocklin Unified School District retaliated against four nurses when it laid them off in 2010.

In her decision, Administrative Law Judge Robin W. Wesley made a proposed order that the district offer to reinstate, with back pay with 7 percent interest, nurses Jennifer Hammond, Genevieve Sherman, Susan Firchau and Jennifer Bradley. She also ordered the district to cease and desist from retaliating against employees because of their participation in activities protected by the Education Employment Relations Act.

District Superintendent Kevin Brown maintains that the ruling reverses an earlier decision by the administrative law judge who conducted the layoff hearings and determined “that we did comply with all the requirements and processes and could lay the nurses off for lack of funding and a change in program delivery.”

“I am extremely pleased with Judge Wesley’s decision,” said Barbara Scott, president of the Rocklin Teachers Professional Association. “I hope that with this decision the nurses will be back in the district, doing the exemplary job they have always done, continuing to serve the health and welfare needs of the students and supporting the families of Rocklin.”

In lengthy PERB documents, the RTPA, which filed the unfair practice charge in 2010, outlines the events leading up to the nurses’ layoffs.

The nurses’ duties in the district of about 11,000 students included preparing health care plans for students with medical conditions, performing vision and scoliosis screenings, providing first aid and administering medication.

The complaints by the nurses include a 2008 incident in which Hammond said she was asked to train a bus driver on how to suction a student’s trachea tube. After reviewing medical records, Hammond concluded that it was not safe to train the driver and so did not, but said she was told that “she needed to do what she was told and her opinion did not matter.” 

Other complaints include when the nurses expressed concern after the lead nurse position, which was paid a stipend for additional duties including coordinating staff training, was eliminated. When told the position would be restored in 2009-2010, Hammond believed she would be named lead nurse, as she had agreed to perform the duties for the remainder of the 2008-09 school year without the stipend after the position was eliminated. The position was instead offered to Bradley and then Sherman, who both declined, according to the PERB documents.

Hammond sought the advice of the California Teachers Association, which said Hammond was entitled to be compensated for the work. The district agreed to compensate her for performing the duties for the second half of 2008-09, but no lead nurse was designated for 2009-10. 

As a result of state school funding reductions, in March 2010 the school board approved the reduction of more than 75 certificated positions for the 2010-11 school year, including all four nurses. In May of that year, the RTPA agreed to accept six furlough days and was able to restore 71 certificated positions. The four nurses, two counselors and two part-time teachers were laid off effective the end of the school year.

The nurses were told they could request an RIF (reduction in force) hearing, which they all attended. The nurses sent their supervisor an email saying that per their union attorney they had the right to attend the hearing uninterrupted on both days, and so the district would be without nursing staff.

Brown responded to the nurses via email, copying the message to the school board: “Your concern for the well-being of our students’ health is regrettable. We will definitely find a way to cover your absence.”

Wesley said in her decision that “the tone of Brown’s email suggests, at a minimum, disappointment in the nurses’ decision to attend the layoff hearing rather than forego the hearing to provide for student health care needs.”

“I just thrilled, just totally thrilled” with the decision, said Hammond, who had worked for RUSD?since 1998. “We feel very vindicated and I just can hardly wait to go back to work for them. I’ve always loved my job there, and the part that I think is important is that my phone has not stopped ringing. We have all been contacted by parents and teachers and even administrators who have al-ways supported us, and it feels really good to have everybody congratulate us and want us to come back to work.”

Brown said he’ll recommend to the board of trustees that the district appeal the finding.

“It is disappointing that the PERB administrative law judge took the latitude to assume what our motivation was,” he said, “and then developed an argument to support her conclusion in spite of the evidence that was submitted.” 

Both Hammond and Scott expressed their hope for a speedy resolution.

“It has already been three years,” Hammond said. “He’s going to waste more time and money to overturn the decision that was really well thought out by a judge, and I don’t see the point in doing that. It was a fair and just decision.”

Brown said it’s not certain at this time how much it would cost  if the nurses are reinstated.

“If they have been employed and earned wages, the amount is subtracted from what they would have earned working in Rocklin,”?he said. “Generally, there would be a settlement meeting where this would need to be worked out.”

The union also alleged that the district transferred and contracted work out of the bargaining unit without providing an opportunity to bargain. Wesley dismissed those allegations, saying that during budget hearings the RTPA was asked repeatedly to weigh in on options including program reductions and layoffs, but refused to declare a preference  and would only negotiate about furlough days.

Today, Brown said, each RUSD school has a health aide and every two to three schools has a licensed vocational nurse. This change, Brown said, has saved the district more than $125,000 per year.