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The Utah Court of Appeals says the Park City School Board violated its teacher contract when it took away the health insurance benefits of two teachers who were sharing a job.

The court also said the board coerced Margery Hadden and Nancy Schulthess, who both teach sixth grade at Treasure Mountain Middle School, into signing individual contracts that waived their right to the benefits.The decision, handed down last week, is a victory for teachers, according to the Utah Education Association, because it preserves the 30-year-old practice of having local unions negotiate a single contract for all teachers in a district.

"It doesn't mandate that districts do collective bargaining, but if they choose to do so, the school boards are bound by those agreements," said Michael T. McCoy, attorney for the UEA, which represented the Park City teachers.

In June of 1989, the Park City School Board adopted a new policy denying health and accident coverage to any employee contracted for less than 25 hours per week. At that time, Hadden and Schulthess were sharing a job at the middle school and had one year remaining on a two-year teaching contract.

The board said the new rule took precedence over the contract negotiated by the Park City Education Association.

Believing that was the only way to keep their jobs, both teachers signed individual contracts and worked the 1989-90 school year without medical or accident benefits, said McCoy.

They then sued the board requesting the $2,000 for the benefits they had lost.

Through the latest appeal, UEA legal fees have reached near $40,000, McCoy said, half of which is being picked up by the National Education Association. He estimated the district has spent the same.

Hadden continues as a part-time sixth-grade teacher at Treasure Mountain Middle School, while Schulthess has returned to full-time work in the same grade, according to the school principal.

The benefits policy also has changed, with the district paying only half the cost of health insurance for part-time employees.

In court documents, Brinton R. Burbidge, the attorney for the Park City Board, alleged that both teachers "voluntarily" agreed to sign the individual contracts and there was no coercion.

Burbidge also argued that because Utah is a "right-to-work" state, employees have the right to bargain collectively or to refrain from that activity.

". . . the signed and executed contracts are undisputed evidence of their intent to contract individually with the board," records state.

That argument was compelling enough for a circuit court judge to rule in the board's favor in December of 1992.

That decision was reversed during the recent appeal. Judge James Z. Davis, writing for the majority, said that neither the teachers nor the employer were free to bargain for an individual contract that opposed that of a agreement already in place.