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Scottsdale Teachers Take Steps To Sue District

Scottsdale Unified School District logo
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
The Scottsdale Unified School District serves about 23,000 students.

Scottsdale’s teachers union has taken the first steps to filing a lawsuit against the school district.

The notice of claim was sent to the Scottsdale Unified School District governing board in January and claims the district violated the teacher employment agreement by not trying “in good faith” to re-establish the agreement before it expired last summer.

The district governing board was scheduled to discuss the notice of claim with its attorneys Tuesday.

“When teachers are silenced, that silence can become complicity,” said Bonnie Bezon, the Scottsdale Education Association’s secretary and an elementary school teacher helping bring the claim. “We are just agreeing to be in an abusive relationship where people who have power are not wielding their power in proper ways.”

Scottsdale Education Association President Julie Cieniawski is also named in the notice of claim.

The teacher employment agreement is a document that has outlined terms and conditions of employment for educators for more than 50 years, according to the notice of claim.

The document was created in collaboration between the SEA and the district, and it outlines policies such as professional development, new teacher orientation, the school calendar and salary schedule.

In particular to Cieniawski, it also specifies release time for SEA’s leader.

The claim accuses the district of eliminating the agreement and failing to collaborate in good faith.  

Examples include a March 16, 2017 decision to suspend portions of the agreement without consulting the teachers union, and a March 21, 2017 vote for a new compensation package adopted after limited discussion with teachers. The governing board later added three professional development days without additional compensation.

Allegedly, district administration, including Superintendent Denise Birdwell, missed a June 2017 meeting and failed to reschedule.

Birdwell later cited the SEA’s lapse in nonprofit status as indication the group “does not have legal standing.”

“The district administration seized on this as a useful pretext in its apparent aim to marginalize and undermine the role of the association of teachers in the district,” the claim states.  

The conclusion is these actions and others breached the agreement.

“We tried talking, we tried diplomatic negotiations, we tried using our words and they’re not listening,” Bezon said. “They really have left us no option but to consider these very extreme possibilities.”

A spokesperson for the Scottsdale Unified School District said it does not comment on pending litigation.

SEA members Cieniawski and Bezon want compensation for the additional professional development days they and other district teachers worked in the 2017-18 school year.

The total being sought for both teachers and attorneys’ fees is $16,355.53.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about the working conditions,” Bezon said, but it’s much easier to put a financial price tag on the suit than try and calculate emotional damage.

Mariana Dale rustles up stories as a senior field correspondent based out of KJZZ’s East Valley Bureau in Tempe. She’s followed a microphone onto cattle ranches, to the Dominican Republic and many places in between. Dale believes in a story’s strength to introduce us to diverse perspectives, inspire curiosity and hold public leaders accountable for their actions. She started at KJZZ on the digital team in 2016 and still spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage with our community online. Dale has learned from stints at Arizona Public Media, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and as an intern at NPR’s Morning Edition in Culver City. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Dale is grateful for the mentoring of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, the Chips Quinn Scholars program and AIR’s New Voices Scholars. A desert native, she loves spending time outside hiking, tending to her cactus and reading.