McAllen board bumps Morris Middle pay grievance back to admin

The McAllen ISD school board meeting room in the district’s Administration Building on Oct. 13, 2021 in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The McAllen school board voted Monday to bump a level three grievance filed by the district’s American Federation of Teachers back down to level two, meaning it’s now in the hands of administration.

After a hearing Monday, McAllen trustees voted to send a union grievance back to the central administration level, dragging on a dispute between the district and teachers from Morris Middle School who claim they were not paid money they were owed last year.

The McAllen American Federation of Teachers represents just five educators (originally it was six, one dropped out) who say they elected to teach through a pandemic-inspired remote education program during the 2021-2022 school year with the understanding that they would receive two $3,000 stipends for the work.

They never received the second of those payments and say they weren’t originally told they wouldn’t be getting it.

Those teachers want that second payment.

Based on communication obtained by the AFT, a clarification that there would be no second $3,000 payment didn’t reach teachers at Morris until well into the second semester.

The district admits there was confusion.

District attorney Mike Saldaña argued during a public hearing Monday that those teachers should not receive that money, based largely on AFT’s lateness in filing their grievance.

He said they were well aware of the situation by the summer — the group in fact told The Monitor it was considering a grievance in August — but did not actually file a grievance until mid-October, inspired by a non-AFT teacher successfully winning her grievance on the same matter.

Local grievance policy requires employees to file grievances within 15 days of them becoming aware of the situation prompting it.

“Clearly it is not timely. They were aware of the situation. The danger is, in our opinion, they have not shown good cause for not being timely. And that is really the issue of timeliness,” Saldaña said.

Trustee Sam Saldivar noted that policy says grievances may be dismissed on the grounds of timeliness, but that the board has previously overlooked those deadlines on at least one occasion.

Saldaña said that doing so and siding with the AFT could be a potentially complicated move from a legal and financial perspective.

“There will be significant budgetary issues as well that need to be considered,” Saldaña said. “And … the other issue that I have is limiting it to say the teachers at Morris or limiting it to AFT could create another group of individuals and could create an equal protection situation argument on behalf of other teachers that are similarly situated.”

The district previously told The Monitor that about 15 educators at Morris taught through the program last year. District-wide, that number was about 220 employees.

McAllen AFT President Sylvia Tanguma, who pleaded the teachers’ case Monday, largely scoffed at the timeliness argument.

Those teachers, she said, “worked the work” and deserve to be paid for it.

“They were told that they were going to get $3,000 per semester, not just verbally, but we have it in writing,” she said. “So it should have never gotten to this fact, the fact that they have to come and file a grievance for work that they did. It should have never been there.”

Tanguma said those Morris teachers — some of whom were in the audience — were depending on their second payment, and that siding against them would impact morale.

“This is not a way that you are going to recruit or retain high quality teachers,” she said.