Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

EDITORIAL: Ely teachers’ claims

Both sides should make an effort to find an amicable settlement

Posted

Both the teachers and administrators in the Ely School District should sit down and resolve the 17 separate claims that teachers recently filed in conciliation court in Virginia.

All sides can certainly agree that the cause of education is poorly served by forcing the school district to pay out attorney’s fees to address 17 separate court actions over the district’s decision to recoup excessive wages paid in error to teachers last year.

If the district failed to adequately inform teachers or consult with them on their plan to recover the funds paid out in error, that’s a shame, but it’s not clear that it’s a violation of the law.

It appears to be an example of poor communication, which could best be addressed by sitting down and talking.

The teachers acknowledge in their legal filings that they were overpaid in error, through 13 paychecks that were larger than they should have been. And that could well pose a problem as they seek to recover twice the amount that was deducted from their paychecks. That’s based on Minn. Stat. Section 181.79 Subd. 1, which makes it illegal for employers to make any deduction, directly or indirectly, from the wages due or earned by any employee.

Yet the key words there are “wages due” and it’s easy to see both sides on that question. If the school district is seeking to recover wages that were overpaid in error, were the wages that the district later deducted actually “due” the teachers?

In effect, the teachers received an unexpected advance on the pay they agreed to in their contract. And it appears the district was trying to correct the overpayment.

There is little doubt that the recovery period was an inconvenience for some teachers, particularly those without sufficient financial reserves to make up for the deductions. That’s where more communication would have been better. The Ely School District isn’t so large that accommodations couldn’t have been made for teachers who needed a slower repayment schedule. Given that the school district made the error, it certainly could have taken steps to alleviate the effects of recovering the funds. According to the teachers, the overpayments came over the course of 13 paychecks, but the school district has sought to recoup the funds in just seven pay periods. For some teachers, that deduction was undoubtedly painful.

Is this something that should really be headed to court, or is this an issue that could be better addressed through a little communication? In a season where we offer our glad tidings and wishes for goodwill among all of us, perhaps a few Christmas cookies could break the ice and allow all sides to sit down and reach an amicable agreement. This is one issue that just shouldn’t require 17 trips to court.

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