NEWMAN - A one-year, 2019-20 contract with Newman-Crows Landing teachers was narrowly approved by the school board at its May meeting.

The board voted 3-2, with Paul Wallace and Vern Snodderly dissenting, to approve a one-year contract with teachers.

That action came after the board had approved a contract with the district’s classified employees.

Each gives employees a 3 percent increase to the salary scale for the coming year - but the sticking point in the teachers’ contract was the new addition of binding arbitration.

No grievances which would have risen to the level of binding arbitration have been heard in recent years, Superintendent Randy Fillpot and board President Janice Conforti each told Mattos Newspapers, a track record which suggests that arbitration would rarely come into play.

Fillpot said the district attempts to resolve grievances at the informal level, and has been successful in doing so during his time in the district.

But Wallace and Snodderly each expressed concerns that binding arbitration will essentially leave the final word in grievances in the hands of an outside party rather than the school board.

In the current format, once a grievance went up the chain of command past the superintendent, an advisory arbitrator would make a recommendation but the board would have the final authority to accept or reject that finding.

Under binding arbitration, the ruling of the arbitrator becomes final and is only accepted and reported out by the board, Fillpot explained.

Wallace said he is not comfortable with that process, which he said removes local control.

“It removes the school board and the community from the whole grievance process,” he commented. “We have no say. We can only accept what they said.”

Snodderly suggested that he, too, was not comfortable turning over the final decision-making authority.

“I just think that issues within the district should be solved locally rather than going somewhere else for binding arbitration,” he said in explaining his vote. “If it is not broken, don’t fix it.”

Conforti said that, while she does not care for the concept of binding arbitration, she also sees grievances rarely if ever reaching that point.

“We have never had to go to arbitration because we are so transparent with our teachers,” she stated. “If we can keep our teachers happy, which we do, I don’t think we will run into a problem. I think it keeps everybody honest. We are transparent.

“We are giving them what they want, and we have what we want as a district,” Conforti continued. “This was one of the things they really wanted, and they gave up some other things in the contract.”

Fillpot said classified employees already have binding arbitration in their contract.

Hardy Reeves, president of the Newman-Crows Landing Teacher Association, said that binding arbitration helps insure that all parties involved follow the contract.

Reeves said he believes Turlock was the only other Stanislaus County school district which did not have binding arbitration for teachers.

“We have been asking for that for years, and all at once it was offered,” he commented.

Reeves characterized the negotiating process as positive, and said teachers overwhelmingly ratified the contract with 98 percent support.