Natomas District Fires Longtime Employee

WITNESSES SWORN IN AT MAY 25 HEARING

BY BRANDY TUZON BOYD
THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

Months of embattled labor relations came to a head last night when Natomas Unified school board members fired the district classified union’s lead contract negotiator, citing misuse of public resources and poor work performance.

After about an hour of deliberating in private, the school board voted 4-0 to dismiss Omega Brewer during a special meeting held June 5.

“In objective review, the board accepts the school district’s recommendation for dismissal on all charges,” school board president Lisa Kaplan said after the vote. A final, written decision would be published in 10 business days, Kaplan said.

Allegations made by the district against Brewer – about 10 in all – ranged from misuse of district technology equipment to insubordination. The hearing was open to the public at Brewer’s request.

During a marathon public employee hearing on May 25, during which an off-duty Sacramento Police officer was hired to standby for more than 12 hours, school district attorney Roman Muñoz frequently cited Brewer’s work on union-related issues while on the job.

Leaders for both Natomas Unified classified employees and teachers yesterday questioned district officials’ actions leading up to the hearing for Brewer, a 15-year district employee. They pointed to months of stalled negotiations over proposed additional and retroactive pay cuts for the 2011-12 school year as well as more than a half-dozen unfair labor complaints filed between the two employee groups against the Natomas Unified School District with the state Public Employment Relations Board.

“This is the most contentious year CSEA has had with the district,” classified union president Heidi Brogan said.

California School Employees Association labor representative Roderick Gaulman said one of the eight unfair labor practice complaints, filed May 2 on behalf of Brewer and two other classified employees, will be amended to include the board’s decision yesterday to fire her. Gaulman added there are also plans to file a civil lawsuit over the district’s alleged disparate treatment of Brewer in Sacramento County Superior Court.

“Labor rights are human rights,” Natomas Teachers’ Association president Kristen Rocha said. “This is an outright attack on a loyal employee who is an active union member.”

The original unfair labor practice complaint alleges Brewer’s and her two coworkers’ jobs were eliminated and all three illegally reassigned to new positions. The union asserts these changes, part of a plan introduced in February to reorganize Natomas Unified, were subject to negotiations under the union’s current labor contract with the school district. Brewer’s coworkers named in the complaint also hold leadership positions in the classified employees’ union.

As part of the reorganization, Brewer’s job as a third-level human resources technician in the district office was eliminated and on March 21 she was reassigned to a clerical position at Inderkum High School. She was put on administrative leave on May 11.

During Brewer’s hearing Muñoz introduced hundreds of pages of computer printouts as evidence of allegations such as unauthorized use of a school computer, conducting union business during work hours and unauthorized release of confidential information.

Natomas Unified’s Director of Information Technology Kat Beebee testified during the hearing that interim superintendent Dr. Walt Hanline directed her to install spyware on what would be Brewer’s computer at her new job site. Beebee said she installed the software, which captured screen shots of the computer desktop every three seconds on the night of March 20. The screen shots were printed out for the hearing.

Beebee added that while she has fielded questions about other employee’s computer use, she had not installed spyware on any other school district computer previous to Brewer’s hearing.

Muñoz’s witnesses at the May 25 hearing also included three of Brewer’s coworkers at Inderkum High School and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Sally Clark. When asked by Gaulman whether progressive steps were used to discipline Brewer, Clark testified that, “she tried.”

(Board member Jules Tran, who did not attend a bulk of the 15-hour public employee dismissal hearing on May 25, did not attend the June 5 meeting.)

According to the Public Employment Relations Board, eight unfair labor practice cases filed against the Natomas Unified School District are pending. One filed by the school district against the Natomas Teachers’ Association is also pending. In six of the cases, PERB has not yet determined whether a complaint should be issued. In two cases, a complaint was issued; one is scheduled for a settlement conference later this month, and the last is set for hearing in August. A complaint was issued in the case filed by the district and a hearing is scheduled in July. -BTB