Following news that the Public Employment Relations Commission found the Bellevue School District broke union rules, the Bellevue High School football community had harsh words for the School Board last Tuesday.
“I think the board needs to resign because I think they’ve had a hand in culpability in the whole thing,” Shelley Carlson said in reference to the summer 2016 Washington Interscholastic Activities Association investigation of the Bellevue High School football program. “They did not defend our students. They didn’t defend their own employees in the legal court and in the public perception, they just let this fester and turn into something huge.”
Carlson’s son graduated last year and was a football player for Bellevue High School. While her son wasn’t among those who were the focus of the WIAA’s investigation, she said his teammates were.
“To me, the main issue was they started an investigation, the investigation was flawed,” Carlson said, “they came to a conclusion drawn from that information, those two [coaches] were let go and our kids, in the process, were harassed and bullied and it was a huge racial profiling of all African-American families.”
The Public Employment Relations Commission’s ruling on Aug. 25 was one of many parts in a multi-year controversy involving the Bellevue School District, Bellevue High School football program and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
On June 1, 2016, the Bellevue Coaches Association filed a complaint with the commission against the Bellevue School District, alleging several unfair labor practices. The union’s allegations stemmed from the school district’s decision to not renew the football coaching contracts of Bellevue High School Head Coach Butch Goncharoff and Assistant Head Coach Patrick Jones as the result of an investigation the WIAA conducted in 2016, court documents state.
The commission found on Aug. 25 the district committed the following:
• They “unlawfully interfered with protected employee rights by precluding bargaining unit Goncharoff and Jones from meeting, conferring, organizing, or speaking with any other coaches, parents, students or individuals associated with the district.”
• They “unlawfully enforced conflicts of interest policy that prohibited coaches from being paid more than $500 for any coaching activities in the summer, without providing the coaches union with notice and an opportunity to request effects bargaining.”
• And the district “unlawfully implemented a policy establishing a two-year ban on coaching in the district for coaches that violate the employer’s conflicts of interest policy, without providing the union with notice and an opportunity to request bargaining.”
But Bellevue School District spokeswoman Elizabeth Sytman stated the district is pleased the commission ruled in favor of the district in the majority of the unfair labor practice claims. This includes findings that the district “… did not discriminate against (the coaches), did not unilaterally create a new summer season for coaching, did not refuse to bargain in good faith concerning employee wages, and that the union’s request for reinstatement of (the coaches) is not warranted …”
“We recognize PERCs decision that the union was not given an opportunity to bargain this policy before it was implemented,” Sytman wrote in a statement. “The district is currently in the process of bargaining with the union about the impact of this policy.”
Jones, the union’s president and one of the coaches whose contract wasn’t renewed, said the coaches never had a seat at the table.
“If you want to do something, you want to make a change? That’s great,” Jones said after the School Board meeting. “But you know what? You have to talk to the coaches union. You have to get them to agree and we bargain.”
Jones said he and the coaches association repeatedly spoke to the School Board and president, the superintendent, the human resources director, the athletic director and attorney for the district about what the rule prohibiting coaches being paid $500 or more in the summer meant.
He said the district told them one thing and they “went on their merry way.” Then, his and the head coaches’ contracts were never renewed.
“Butch didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. We did what our school district told us we could do in the summer, as do many coaches throughout Washington state.”
Jones said he believes the violations WIAA determined, were blown out of proportion, which led to the two-year ban that the school district never negotiated with the union.
“They did it all unilaterally and shoved it in our faces and acted like the union doesn’t exist and I think, at this point, they probably realize that our union does exist,” Jones said of the 250 coaches in the Bellevue Coaches Association.
To remediate the district’s unfair labor practices, the district is required to stop enforcement of the conflicts of interest policy for coaching work during the summer activities period and notify the union before the district decides to strictly enforce the policy for the summer activities period. They’re also required to rescind the policy establishing a two-year ban on coaching in the district for coaches who violate the employer’s conflicts of interest policy. The commission also mandated the district will not “preclude bargaining unit employees and union officers from meeting, conferring, organizing, or speaking with any other coaches, parents, students, or individuals associated with the Bellevue School District.”
In addition to respecting the union rights of the district’s employees, the district was also ordered to not establish new disciplinary penalties without first notifying the employee’s union, and give the union an opportunity to bargain. In addition, the district cannot in any way “interfere with, restrain or coerce employees in the exercise of their collective bargaining rights under the laws of the state of Washington.”
Officials began investigating the Bellevue High School football team after a 2014 incident and subsequent complaints about the program and its officials. Though Goncharoff and another coach were given two-game suspensions and the football program was put on three-years probation, additional accusations surfaced over the following months.
By the start of the 2015 football season, the team was once again investigated, this time for allegations that the program was illegally recruiting students, directing them to attend a private school called the Academic Institute and coordinating tuition payments and other financial benefits. The role of the Wolverines football booster club also came under inspection during this time.
Over the following six months, third party investigators Carl Blackstone and Bob Westinghouse probed the football program with what some called a racial bias. The investigators rebuked the district’s attempts to protect students and limit the scope of the investigation.
They reported finding evidence to support many of the claims and uncovered “significant and long-standing violations” including some that were identified, but went unreported last spring.
Upon reviewing the WIAA report, district officials substantiated some of the findings while reporting that there was insufficient evidence to back up others. Those findings were reported to KingCo on May 23, 2016.
On Aug. 4, 2016, the Sea-King District 2 Executive Board announced the Bellevue Wolverines football team would still face sanctions of a two-year probation despite the school district’s attempts to appeal the initial four-year ban on post-season play.
The Bellevue Wolverines have been on probation for one year and have not been able to receive donations. All transfer students are required to gain approval from the Sea-King District 2 Eligibility Committee.
However, the Bellevue School District recently announced they will back Bellevue High School’s request to lift the remaining ban on post-season play at the WIAA’s next executive board meeting on Sept. 24.
This will be the second time in recent months the district has requested the association lift the ban. In March, the WIAA executive board denied their request.
Coverage from former Bellevue Reporter staff writer Allison DeAngelis contributed to this report.