The Board of Education recently denied a grievance filed by a Cheshire School District building maintainer who was seeking to change his role to District Wide Outside Maintainer.
On June 9, Board members heard from Darcey School building maintainer Jon Padua and attorney Elizabeth Ditman, who represents the District’s custodial and maintenance bargaining unit. Padua claims that he was denied the position of district wide outside maintainer in both 2019 and 2021, despite having the necessary experience for the role.
The outside maintainer position was awarded to an external candidate, according to Ditman, which she claimed went against the contract language between the District and the bargaining unit. Ditman also argued that, in 2021, Padua and she “had to fight” to get Padua an interview with District officials, which she said was later granted simply to appease the union group.
Padua is seeking to be awarded the position. In the new role, Padua would earn the same pay, but would be able to earn overtime.
“He … should be given an opportunity to grow and to be able to make some more overtime,” Ditman argued. “He wants to be outside more and he should be given this opportunity. He shouldn’t be held back in a position that he has served well but would like to move on from.”
The only experience Padua is lacking, Ditman added, is maintenance of artificial turf fields, which she said was not included in the job description. She noted that the District also argued a case of nepotism, as Padua’s cousin, Joseph Padua, was hired as foreman of the outside maintainers.
“(Joseph) is still a member of the bargaining unit,” Ditman said. “He did not make any hiring, firing, or other decisions concerning Mr. Padua.”
Padua, too, addressed the Board, stating that the District hires high school and college-aged students, “with little experience,” as outside maintainers during summer months.
“I’m skilled in outside landscaping and know how to operate the machinery,” Padua stated. “I even repair machinery on the side for extra money. I’m just looking for an opportunity, a 30-day trial, and to see where it goes from there.”
As part of the grievance process, Padua had his complaint heard by Director of Facilities Services Richard Clavet, followed by Chief Operating Officer Vincent Masciana, and then Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeff Solan. All three denied Padua’s grievance. The Board was the fourth party to hear Padua’s grievance.
Attorney Chris Henderson, who represented the District, argued that administrators determined Padua’s experience “didn’t match” the immediate qualifications of the outside maintainer position.
“The administration needed someone to get in there, know what they’re doing, had the experience, and wasn’t a trainee,” Henderson said. “This position wasn’t advertised as a training position. It was advertised as something where you get in and do the work … and they made the decision that another candidate, the external candidate, was the most qualified.”
Henderson also claimed that a preclusion effect is in place because Padua did not take the 2019 decision to arbitration, and the 2021 grievance involves the same parties and same issue.
Henderson’s claim prompted a response from Ditman, who said all future grievances would be taken to arbitration.
“All we did at that time was decide not to pursue that particular 2019 job any further,” Ditman responded. “If the District suggests otherwise, the union will have no choice but to pursue every single grievance we file from here on forward to the arbitration level, which will cost the District lots and lots of money.”
Board member Faith Ham took exception to Ditman’s comment, urging her to retract her statement.
“If that’s a threat, I just don’t know that it’s appropriate,” Ham said. “If you’re telling us now that every case will go to arbitration regardless of the facts and regardless of the circumstances, to me, that sort of sounds like intimidation.”
Ditman clarified her statement.
“My response to that was that this is a very dangerous thing and a very dangerous position for the District to put us in,” Ditman said. “If you’re claiming that we are precluded from pursuing things two or three years down the road that happen again … then you’re going to force our hand.”
Board chairman Tony Perugini and Ditman also had a heated exchange. While fielding questions from Perugini, Ditman again brought up taking the case to arbitration.
“You keep threatening arbitration,” Perugini said. “… We can end this hearing right now. You’re not doing your client a service arguing with me or any board members … I am the board member who is trying to get answers to the questions, so stop arguing with me so we can actually get through this.”
The BOE unanimously denied Padua’s grievance.