Juneau coach and teacher Kevin Hamrick recently retired from the Juneau School District after putting in almost 30 years as an educator. As he finished up his final days teaching summer school classes, he found himself in a bureaucratic beef with the district over $750.
He filed a grievance.
Hamrick first started working for the Juneau School District in 1992. His last day of work was during summer school on June 28.
He had five days of personal leave leftover and thought he could cash it out under a policy in the teachers’ labor contract with the district.
“After you serve the district so long and you ask for your cash out of your leave, that $750, and they deny it, it’s like, ‘OK, yeah, thank you. Have a nice retirement,’” Hamrick said.
The cash option gives teachers a reason not to use up all their leave just for the sake of using it up, which generally means instructional benefits for students. It also helps the district save money by not needing to hire substitute teachers as often, and the payout rate is much lower than a teacher’s salary for a day. A teacher at the bottom of the pay scale earns about $285 a day. The leave policy pays out $150 a day.
“It was designed to be an incentive not to take it, and they’re turning it into a punishment for not taking it,” Hamrick said. “So that was my main grievance, you know? I did what was best for the kids because they’d missed enough school last year, in-person teaching, and I wasn’t going to, you know, use up my last five days.”
But district officials all said no, he couldn’t cash out those five days of unused leave.
“Mr. Hamrick referred to the intent. Intent is not how you manage a contract,” said Superintendent Bridget Weiss, during a hearing on Hamrick’s case on July 6 with a panel of Juneau School Board members. “Intent is how you write language for sure.”
Language that the teachers’ union and district both agreed to in their labor contract. The cash-out policy sounds straightforward: “Teachers can cash out unused leave at any time during the school year at a rate of $150 per day, prorated.”
Basically, Weiss said he missed the “during the school year” deadline, which was May 24. That’s also when Hamrick’s regular teaching job officially ended. Teaching summer school is a separate job.
“What’s important is that we honor that language and the role of contract, versus what feels fair, perhaps, or those kinds of things,” Weiss said. “This is really about contract language and adhering to that contract language.”
One school board member asked Weiss how often personal leave is forfeited. She said she could only recall one other similar situation. KTOO also requested data on how much leave has been forfeited in recent years. A district official said the request is pending.
The school board said intent does matter to them and recommended the administration take a deeper look into whether the policy is supposed to let teachers forfeit their leftover leave time when they stop working for the district.
In its report, the hearing panel concluded that the policy applies to teachers who are coming back to work another school year to carry their leave forward. “It is silent regarding situations where an employee retires, resigns, or is otherwise terminated after the school year,” the report states.
“I’ve negotiated, been a part of these negotiations for years,” said long-time school board member Brian Holst, who chaired the grievance hearing panel. “I don’t recall the context being that we also wanted to stop somebody from cashing out at the end of their service.”
The full Juneau School Board met Tuesday to consider the panel’s recommendations. It didn’t make a final decision. Hamrick made procedural errors in the grievance process, so the board referred Hamrick back to an earlier step with the administration.
Hamrick said he was surprised but happy with the board’s call. He intends to continue through the grievance process.
Leadership with the teacher’s union, Juneau Education Association, declined to comment. But Hamrick said he heard from union members who say they’ll fix the policy in the next contract.
“Hopefully … since I made a big enough noise about it, at least now it’ll benefit somebody in the future,” he said.
The labor contract between the school district and the teachers’ union is up for renegotiation in December.