News Story

Brighton school board members challenge union’s office space at high school

For decades, teachers union at Brighton Area Schools has been using district resources to conduct daily business

Two trustees of Brighton Area Schools say they have teamed up to address a union’s use of district facilities at taxpayer expense.

An employee of the Brighton Education Association had an official ID badge and regular access to the high school. As a result of a change the trustees set into motion, that person will now have to register as a guest and be treated like a visitor to the campus.

John Conely, the school board treasurer, and William Trombley, its vice president, approached the district superintendent with their concerns. Conely says for at least 40 years, the union used district facilities. Brighton High School served as its headquarters, and an online search for the union shows the school as the union’s address. It also shares a telephone number with the district. Trombley believes the union also uses the school’s copy machine, server, and utilities to conduct its business.

Conely estimates the union’s price tag for several decades of free use of school district property would be in the tens of millions.

Conely told CapCon that “on many occasions students have not been put first,” Conely told CapCon. “The fact that our citizens are paying the tab for a fully funded union headquarters that runs in our school without regulation as an independent entity is just not right.”

Conely became involved in the district and later joined the school board when a teacher told one of his students that the district could not afford multiple textbooks for her class. The teacher, his student said, photocopied sections of a textbook.

At the time, Conely says, the district was allotting $20,000 to $40,000 each year for textbooks. Neighboring districts were spending up to ten times as much. The district had an $8.5 million deficit in 2012-13. Conely says the school system was on the verge of being turned over to a state-appointed emergency manager.

When the union officials were confronted, Conely told CapCon, they replied that the collective bargaining agreement gives them a right to use the property. Trombley believes that the contract does not offer a right to free, ongoing use of school facilities.

The contract reads, in part:

Duly authorized representatives of the association and their respective affiliates shall be permitted to transact official association business on school property provided that this shall not interfere with or interrupt normal school operations. ...

The association and its members shall be allowed, upon request, to use school building facilities for meeting during the hours that the buildings are covered by custodial staff. Association personnel shall have the right to use school facilities, technology, and equipment, at reasonable times such equipment is not otherwise in use. The association shall supply at the association’s expense, all materials needed to conduct association business.

Until recently, the union had the only key to the room its clerical employee uses at the high school. Conely calls the union’s full-time use of school property incompatible with the contract.

“They have not asked each time they use it, which is almost every day, and there is a lock on it which implies a claim to that particular office,” Trombley told CapCon.

Matt Outlaw, superintendent of Brighton schools, told CapCon in an email that the union has had an office in the high school for about 40 years.

He confirmed that a union employee has had a district ID, which gave the person access to the school in a way similar to that permitted district employees. Unlike the clerical worker, other union officials are district teachers or counselors.

The union has its own computer and printers, Outlaw says, and they are not tied to the district network. He is not sure if this was always the case, he told CapCon. Conely, who received a copy of the email Outlaw sent to CapCon, says the union employee does have access to the school network.

“The BEA had full use (for years) of The Brighton Area Schools Computer network,” Conely writes, adding that the district website had a direct link to the union’s union website. The link was removed sometime in the last 90 days, he says, after he told Outlaw that the union was illegally using district property.

The union employee had undergone a background check, according to Outlaw, a statement Conely disputes.

The BEA has an unfair advantage, says Conely, given that teachers who are not union members do not have their own office from which to organize.

The Brighton Education Association did not respond to a request for comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.