Contract talks stalled
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 6:00 PM
MENOMINEE - The Menominee City District Education Association didn't make any progress during recent teacher contract negotiations with the Menominee Area Public Schools Board of Education.
"We didn't agree to anything," MCDEA President Julie Flores said about a five-hour negotiation session with a mediator's services held Nov. 13. "Nothing, just a waste of an evening. People walked out of there even more angry and disappointed than when we walked in and that was already pretty bad."
Flores said she can't reveal any details of the negotiation session because the association doesn't bargain in public. The association doesn't even release information to its own members until there's something to put in their hands. But the association doesn't feel the board is bargaining in good faith, Flores said.
"Everything comes back around to them wanting the exact same things all the time," she said.
The MAPS board on Oct. 24 approved imposing teacher contract terms which include cutting salaries by 5 percent, freezing service and education increases and eliminating class-size limits. It's all part of the board's plan to eliminate the district's financial deficit.
Board president Ken Pulver said the school district had a fund balance deficit of about $54,000 at the end of the 2012-'13 school year. Implementing an impasse on teachers' salaries, service and education increases and class-size limits would provide the district with about a $4,000 surplus for the 2013-'14 school year. That would leave a fund balance deficit of about $50,000 at the end of the 2013-1'4 school year, Pulver said.
"Basically they want to balance their budget on our backs and we had nothing to do with them getting into this financial mess," Flores said. "They're threatening that teachers will be laid off if they can't balance their budget."
Pulver said other employees in the district such as administrators, aides, secretaries, food service and maintenance workers have had their wages frozen. Some have had their pay reduced or hours cut, he said.
"Everybody has shared up to this point, and now we are making the teachers share as well and they don't like it," Pulver said. "I don't like it either."
He said that if the board hadn't imposed cutting teachers' salaries by 5 percent, it would have lay off teachers and/or cut other services.
"We chose to share the pain because I will not let this district fall out of local control on my watch," Pulver said. "If we were to go into deficit again we would run the risk of an emergency manager coming in and making decisions for the district from Lansing."
Flores said the association and board agreed on the financial information presented last July at a fact-finding hearing. However, the board chose to ignore the fact-finder's opinion when it arrived late last August. The neutral, state-appointed fact-finder, Roger Cheek, an independent contractor from the Detroit area, recommended teachers should continue with a pay freeze but be compensated for years of service and education. He also recommended maintaining language on current class sizes. But, instead of acknowledging Cheek's report, the board chose to wait out the 60 days required under the law in order to carry out the imposition and engaged in bad faith bargaining with the association, Flores said.
Pulver said Cheek's recommendation didn't consider the district's financial condition. He speculates that Cheek didn't understand the information presented to him because it included details of the deficit elimination plan.
"He is not accountable to keeping the district open," Pulver said. "I'd rather look them (teachers) in the eye and say you'll get a 5 percent cut now so that doesn't happen."
Flores said the board continues its hostile, punitive and vindictive attitude toward the teaching staff.
"This is my 19th year in the district," she said. "I can't ever remember that negotiations were cooperative and peaceful. It's always been a very difficult job to bargain with this board."
Pulver denied that the board has a vindictive attitude toward teachers. Three board members - Pulver, treasurer Ruby Ivens and secretary Marye Mathieu - have spouses or children working in the district. Other members have children attending schools in the district, he said.
"What she's saying doesn't make sense other than this board and the previous board didn't give them (teachers) everything they wanted in their contract requests," Pulver said.
Flores said the association will continue to insist on bargaining for a contract that's fair to both sides.
"They (the board) want what they want and they're not willing to budge from that," she said.
Pulver said negotiations are a matter of give-and-take, but unfortunately the board doesn't have anything to give because of the financial conditions facing the district.
"We're asking the union to recognize that and help us get out of this position with a creative solution," he said. "The other night there was a discussion about a couple of things, but none of them would have resulted in savings to the district."