2013-10-24 / Front Page

School board mulls next move in SCEA contract negotiations

BY LANIA ROCHA
810-452-2652 - lrocha@mihomepaper.com

SWARTZ CREEK — It's been 19 months since negotiators for the Swartz Creek Education Association and Swartz Creek Community Schools first met at the bargaining table, and the two sides have yet to reach an agreement.

Monday, an open letter posted on the district's website indicated that the two sides had reached an impasse.

Labor law now allows the district to impose its last, best offer on the 210- member teacher's union, which has been working without a contract since Aug. 31, 2012.

The teachers could respond by taking the district to court.

SCEA President Eric Minore said the primary sticking point is financial.

Teachersofferedtotakea1percent pay cut for the 2013-14 school year, and no pay increase the following year.

Theunionalsoproposeda5percent reduction in starting pay, as well as unpaid work days if the district's fund balance fell below $1.2 million this school year, and $1.3 million next school year.

"We are willing to sacrifice even more," Minore noted in a written statement in which he urged the Board of Education to adopt a fact finder's recommendations.

"We have proposed further wage cuts to protect programs and students from harmful cuts. But if the school board were to reduce wages to the level it proposes, it will drive more teachers into financial hardship and still others out of the district."

Minore said the pay cuts come on the heels of increased teacher contributions to health care and retirement costs.

"The average teacher in our district is taking home less money today than they did five years ago," Minore said.

Administrators say deeper cuts are needed because reductions in state and federal funding, combined with declining enrollment, have cost the district millions.

The district has had to dip into its reserves, and its savings have dwindled from nearly $6 million in 2008 to about $1.3 million this school year, Assistant Superintendent Jim Bleau said for a story in the Sept. 19 Swartz Creek View.

Thedistrictproposesa5percent wage cut and a freeze on the salary increases that hinge on continuing education and time spent in the district.

District officials also support a mediator's proposal that teachers receive bonuses contingent upon a healthy bottom line, sort of a profit sharing plan.

In the letter, Superintendent Jeff Hall said that, in three years, teachers could earn more with the bonus plan than the union's proposal.

Minore disagreed, saying the objectives the district would have to meet were "unattainable."

Hall said the district lost $1,324,104 in federal funds during the 2011-12 school year alone. The same year, state funding was slashed by almost $2 million, he said. State funding account for about 63 percent of the district's revenues.

In 2008, the state allowed $7,316 per pupil and the district had 4,168 students.

But both state funding and student count began a downward trend the following year.

By the 2011-12 school year, state funding had been reduced to $6,846 per pupil and the student population had dropped to 3,960.

The trend has started to shift in the other direction.

This year, the district is set to receive $7,026 per pupil from the state, and the student count has increased to 4,008.

Teacher salaries vary, from about $38,861 for a new hire with a bachelor's degree, to about $82,093 for a teacher with 30 years in the district who has a master's degree plus 30 credit hours, according to a fact finder's report.

Swartz Creek ranks 106th of the state's 549 districts for teacher salaries.

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