Nampa union prevails in furlough dispute

Former Nampa school superintendent Thomas Michaelson overstepped his bounds late last year, when he tried to get individual teachers to agree to take unpaid furlough days.

Thomas Michaelson mug
Thomas Michaelson

That was the ruling from District Judge Molly Huskey, who sided Friday with the Nampa Education Association in the furlough dispute.

It’s unclear whether Huskey’s ruling will place more fiscal pressure on an already cash-strapped Nampa School District.

The NEA and the Idaho Education Association did not seek damages in the lawsuit — only a declaration that the voluntary furlough plan was illegal. However, a summary judgment in the unions’ favor could allow the unions to “seek further relief on behalf of its members,” Huskey wrote in her 18-page decision.

The voluntary furloughs have already been carried out — they were an amendment to the 2012-13 teacher contracts. Teachers are now working under a 2013-14 contract that mandates 14 furlough days, pay cuts that will affect the majority of Nampa teachers.

The NEA sued the district in March, alleging that teachers were pressured into taking the unpaid furlough days. Michaelson sought the voluntary furloughs in December, as one of a series of steps to erase the district’s shortfall.

Huskey’s ruling did not speak to the allegations of pressure, and instead focused on process. It’s up to a school board, or its representatives, to negotiate collective bargaining agreements with local teachers’ unions. A superintendent cannot negotiate labor agreements with individual teachers — and, said Huskey, the furlough plan did essentially that.

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The Nampa district was disappointed by Huskey’s ruling.

“Our sole intent last December was to find a way to accommodate those individual teachers who came forward wanting to volunteer for furlough days to help with the district’s financial crisis,” spokeswoman Allison Westfall said late Monday afternoon.

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