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Attorney: District 833 principal's pay inequity claims 'ludicrous'

A District 833 attorney told a judge Friday that Woodbury High School Principal Linda Plante's argument about pay disparities is "ludicrous, frankly."

Trevor Helmers argued that arbitration is not necessary to move forward with the case, citing the collective bargaining agreement and the fact that the Principals Association wasn't involved in the grievance process.

"The union is not challenging this," he said.

Plante is requesting a judge order mandatory arbitration after district officials rejected multiple petitions she filed in which she expressed concerns over pay and gender discrimination.

A judge heard both sides Friday and will soon decide whether or not a neutral arbitrator is required to step in.

Plante approached the district about a $60,000 pay difference between her salary and that of former Park High School Principal Craig Paul, who was hired in 2011.

Her attorney, Jeffrey Schiek, argued Paul's salary was awarded outside of the bargaining agreement.

"There is a reasonable debate as to whether or not the agreement was in fact violated," he said.

Schiek said an arbitrator would be able to lay down some groundwork and further investigate the claims.

Helmers, on the other hand, said the district hired Paul as interim principal based on the need to hire immediately and that his contract was "outside of the scope" of the bargaining unit.

Referring to the $60,000 in damages that Plante is requesting, he said "we had no idea where the basis for that number is."

Helmers said most cases similar to this one usually have a union backing up the claims, but in this case none of the members of the Principals Association signed off on the grievances.

"What this is, is a single employee attempting to get more than she got under the CBA," he said.

A neutral arbitrator will not have authority to remedy the situation and won't be able to change the terms and conditions of employment, Helmers said.

East Ridge High School Principal Aaron Harper, who attended the hearing Friday, said the district's presentation was "logical" but it's also an interpretation of what officials believe are the facts.

"As stated, it sounds factual," he said.

But the union wasn't involved in the process because each administrator is required to file his or her own grievance, not because it's not backing up Plante's claims, Harper said.

He said it's also logical that the district continues to use the phrase "interim" to back up its argument that Paul was awarded an independent contract.

Harper said if an arbitrator were to step in, he or she would find the Park High School vacancy was never publicly posted before Paul was hired, first as interim and then a few months later as permanent principal.

"If in January 2012, that position was a permanent position, why then did he resign Sept. 1 or whatever it was?" Harper said.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.