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Posted on Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 3:25 p.m.

New Ann Arbor teachers contract calls for pay freeze

By David Jesse

Faced with a projected budget deficit, Ann Arbor teachers are considering a contract with wage freezes for the first time in history.

The tentative contract is now awaiting a ratification vote from the 1,100 union members.

There's no pay raises this school year, although teachers will continue to get step increases for years of service.

And the contract has no details on wage adjustments for the 2010-11 school year. Instead, there's a clause in the contract that allows it to be negotiated in the future.

"It's a reality-based contract," said Brit Satchwell, who was recently elected as the teachers' union president. "The district can't see ahead very far when it comes to the budget. The union can't see ahead very far when it comes to the budget.

"The only thing we can predict is a projected budget deficit."

Ann Arbor Superintendent Todd Roberts agreed.

"We have no idea what the state is going to do (this) school year, much less (the 2010-11) school year," he said. "This gives us flexibility in addressing wages. We didn't want to lock ourselves in."

The 80-plus-page agreement also details other changes for teachers.

Prescription drug co-pays will be going up. But the amount of money the district contributes for teachers' health care also will go up. Teachers can choose how they want to spend that money. If they opt for the most-expensive plan offered, they'll have to pay out part of the cost. If they choose the lower-priced HMO, they'll get money back from the district.

Both sides said that when they sat down this summer to negotiate a new contract, a multi-year deal was an attractive option to bring some financial planning stability to the district and helps parents and staff plans schedules.

The district's projected finances are still in flux. The state hasn't yet determined how much per-pupil funding (the district's main source of revenue) Ann Arbor will receive this or next school year.

And a countywide enhancement millage is headed to voters Nov. 3. If it passes, Ann Arbor could get more than $11 million a year from it.

If it fails, and district projections hold true, Ann Arbor could be facing a $15 million hole in the 2010-11 budget.

In addition to pay and benefits, the agreement - which is scheduled to be voted on by union members Sept. 16 and 17 - sets the calendar for the next two years.

Several parents have noted that calendar, especially the district's midwinter break, doesn't align with calendars for the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

A state-mandated start date of the Tuesday after Labor Day - a week later than normal - impacted the schedule, officials said, as well as a new countywide calendar for K-12 schools.

The contract also opens up the potential for other changes in the way the district does business, especially in the areas of how teachers are evaluated and merit pay.

"We felt like it's important to look at option that might exists (for merit pay)," Roberts said. "It warrants a collaborative discussion about that as we move forward."

Satchwell isn't shrinking from that discussion.

"This is public education," he said. "The public dictates the agenda. Our job is to engage that conversation as fully as possible and with as much information as possible. I think teachers have all sorts of merit. It's time for that debate. Everything is on the table."

Both committees are scheduled to report back by the end of this school year.

David Jesse covers K-12 education for He can be reached at



Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 5:18 p.m.

Of course teachers don't want to take the cuts. And there is no guarantee right now for anyone, private or public when more money is on the way. Lots of people don't even have a job these days.


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 7:50 a.m.

It's not really statistically valid to compare Dexter's or Saline's MEAP scores to Ann Arbor's. There are many complex issues, but mostly the student population is much more varied in Ann Arbor, there is a lot more poverty, and families are more transient.


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 6:37 a.m.

SteveMIPFS You can (should) use all that money on student 'enhancement'. AAPS already receives at least $2,000 more per student than neighboring districts. Comparing MEAP scores, etc. of AAPS with Chelsea, Dexter and Saline who receive much less per student and achieve similar or better testing results would indicate you can do more with less. Take a hard look at where your costs are and you can find more ways to be "leaner". Ultimately, in order to get Lansings attention, I think districts will just have to close their doors and say we don't have any more money - change our funding. The fact that we as a state have increased spending on prisons more than education is indicative of the leadership in Lansing. PJ

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Wed, Aug 26, 2009 : 3:56 p.m.

Josber - I certainly understand your concerns. Unfortunately, huge cuts in WISD districts won't put any extra pressure on Lansing - our Representatives (Byrnes, Warren, Smith, Angerer) and Senator (Brater, mostly) are already strong supporters of education in the Legislature. We need to forge alliances with citizens from across the state. Why don't teachers want to take large cuts? I'm mostly guessing, but I don't think it's about greed or selfishness. First off, of course, teaching has never been a high paying profession, and teachers really do work hard. We also entrust them with our most precious posessions - our kids. But the other part is that a one-time pay cut won't do it. AAPS has been cutting the budget for years now. They only avoided teacher layoffs a couple of years ago by having the buy-out. And unless there is a real change in how schools are funded state-wide, there isn't much chance of improvement. So no one can promise teachers that there will ever by an upside when they could recover what they gave up. People in the private sector at least have the firm understanding that when times get better, pay will go up. But that's not how it works in the public sector. We as a state have been spending less and less of our total "income" on K-12 education over the last decade, in good times and bad. That's a result of how we raise money for schools. Changing that is my top priority - right at the same level as making sure my kids' local schools have the resources to weather the storm and hold on until we make those state-wide changes.


Wed, Aug 26, 2009 : 1:46 p.m.

Part of Lansing understanding the urgency of changing the law, is to have many feel the pain...I hate for kids to have to have cuts to service to change the law, but the law is simply unsustainable, and I think you know far better than I do. It will take longer the more people cast about looking for short term fixes to fundamental structural issues. If is it passes,and given how many others don't have built in safeguards for pensions and health care, it is still not enough...there's a city income tax next, the city is worried that they won't have enough for their labor unions, afraid of labor strikes, and county needs more money...This is big structural change coming, and you just can't pretend that this one time will fix it. It won't. So the school needs to have a plan in place to deal with this. Can they shut down a school? Certainly. Can they streamline? Certainly. Will they have to? We'll see. If you go to layoffs to manage your financial problems, the kids will suffer more than if you streamline. Far better that the same amount of staff remains, and all get paid less. For those remain behind with too much on their plate with not enough support, that compensation package at some point, just won't be worth it...

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Wed, Aug 26, 2009 : 1:25 p.m.

PJ - It would be great if we could use this money for "enhancement." But the problem is that state funding for schools is coming up short, in the millions. We're running out of options. Josber - you might be surprised to see AAPS's enrollment numbers; they have not dropped as much as many people think. In any case, we still have about 16,500 students to educate. The increasing cost of health care is absolutely a problem, but I think it's important to remember that AAPS has a shortfall for 2009-10 even with the teachers taking a pay and health benefit freeze. The district proposes to cover this in several ways, including staff and program cuts. As to pensions, well, that is run by the state legislature, and required contributions have gone up as their investment fund got hammered in the stock market disaster. The Legislature did make changes to teacher pensions in 2007, but it will be some years before we start seeing cost reductions. I completely agree: the real problem does lie in Lansing. But the problem isn't that they are hoarding the money; it's that we cut our taxes to the bone back in good times, and now that times are bad, the money simply isn't there. I am working with many others to change how schools are funded state wide. But it will take time, and will be a difficult fight. Our school districts don't have much time; their funding will be cut tremendously over the next couple of years. I worry about what our schools will be like for my kids, for everybody's kids. We simply cannot wait - we need to step up now!


Wed, Aug 26, 2009 : 7:57 a.m.

Ms. Knight, who seemingly has a favorable sentence for her crime, is obviously paying good money for a good lawyer. That is money that will never make it to the AAAHA. Seems like a second crime, doesn't it?


Wed, Aug 26, 2009 : 6:38 a.m.

I would encourage everyone in the county to hold their school boards accountable to any millage money if it passes. It is supposed to be an "enhancement" millage - which to me means it should enhance our childrens education - NOT be used to plug the holes in salary and benefits. Fundamental changes need to happen in Lansing. I can already hear the MEA "on the backs of teachers" refrain, but my wife and myself (any most neighbors) have both had no raises, no 401K matching and less health care options - so our "contributions" to schools are on "our backs". Ask to see your school district budget and see if their is still some "fat" left.


Wed, Aug 26, 2009 : 5:28 a.m.

I think you are not correct. The ongoing increases in health care costs, and the payment first to pension benefits eat up much of whatever increase the state sends the school's way, and that is state law.. and the amount paid to both increase every year. That is the real problem, and that is part of any public schools teacher compensation package, and compensation = pay. Pattengill and Pittsfield have low enrollments, AAPS is down more than 500 students in the last few years,and almost all schools in the system have declining populations, so they could close a school or two down...and that doesn't mean that school quality would go down because those students are redistributed. At 279 kids at Pattengill, a school that can hold 400 easily, they are paying for a lot of extra staff at this point. A big problem with the millage is that it won't be enough, you will be chasing your way down the bottom. Millage is based on housing values, and they are not stable yet, the forecast about amount able to be raised is likely artificially inflated, because today's numbers are not tomorrows. This is simply a stopgap measure, and doesn't solve the long term funding problem. It will be a hard sell to outlying areas to raise money that doesn't go straight to their school, and that will send money to a system as loaded as AAPS with extras other schools don't have.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 8:55 p.m.

Josber (and all), I certainly didn't mean to chastise anybody. I just wanted to help everyone understand how AAPS and the teachers handle health care issues. There is a lot of misunderstanding about that. Of course everybody deserves decent pay and decent health care - and the ballooning cost of health care is really the driving force behind a lot of problems in our economy, and it is definitely making the school funding situation worse. But it's not teacher pay that is at the root of our schools' current difficulties. Even with this pay freeze, AAPS still had to find $7 million in reductions to make for this next school year - and that assumes that the legislature won't cut school funding, but now we know that they probably will. Forecasts call for a budget hole of $15 million in 2010-11. ALL of this is because of problems with state funding for schools. They've burned through more than half of the stimulus money for K-12 education just to keep from taking money back from schools for the 08-09 school year! It's tempting, but closing a school building doesn't save all that much money. Most AAPS schools are near or over capacity, and I don't know that stuffing more kids into a building will result in better education. Most school spending goes for people, not buildings, and we have the same number of kids to educate no matter what happens to state funding. I think the countywide millage will be an important way for us to take the fate of our kids' education back into our own hands, rather than hoping Lansing gets its house in order.


Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 6:26 p.m.

SteveMIPFS That was a somewhat chastising post, and I want to point out, that while the teachers deserve their health care cost increase and a pay adjustment upward after a millage, while they continue to get their step increases, that in our household none of that has occurred, and we deserve it, too. So we should pay more, while we receive less? Asking for more at such a time may very well fall flat on its face. You need to ask outlying areas,not just Ann Arbor to pony up money when foreclosures and layoffs and downward pressure on home prices are routine? Perhaps the school could close a school or two down, and still manage just fine. There's never just one way to fix a problem.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 11:02 a.m.

About the calendar: it's true that it is negotiated, but there are certain limits. State law requires all schools to start after Labor Day. And state law also requires all schools in an intermediate school district (ISD) to develop a common calendar. The WISD common calendar has been around for a couple of years, but AAPS did not have to follow it until the teachers' contract expired. The common calendar defines when the winter holiday break will be, and also the April break. Other breaks, and the last day of school, are up to each community. Of course, state law requires our kids to be in school for a certain number of days (or hours). I believe that the problem is that the ISD common calendar puts the April break earlier than AAPS has been accustomed to having it. That puts the squeeze on the February break, because the universities made theirs later to accommodate the later Labor Day start (and they don't have to worry about a second break). There are lots of different opinions about the February break, but lots of families assume they will have one. And an earlier poster was right - if you are university staff (not faculty), you don't get that time off in any case. But, if you are going to have one, it makes sense not to put it too close to the April break (which we cannot change). And no, most schools do not have air conditioning, so let's all hope for a cool June....

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 10:52 a.m.

To Josber and others, I haven't seen the text of the agreement, but my impression is this: the total amount spent on health care benefits by the district will remain the same (or even drop a little). By increasing the district contribution to health care but also increasing co-pays on prescription drugs, the total is essentially a wash. However, it ends up giving a benefit to younger teachers, who tend to earn less (more contribution towards their health care) and slightly disadvantage older teachers who are at the top of the pay scale (us folks in our "prime" tend to make use of prescription drug benefits more). I think the "menu" of health plans remains the same, and it works a lot like the UM system. At the low cost end are a couple of HMOs, which I guess now cost a bit less than the district contribution. At the high end are two MESSA plans (one a PPO, the other is traditional fee-for-service) both of which require substantial employee contributions. The district contribution is the same, regardless. I think this makes sense, because younger teachers need to concentrate on getting their "sea legs" in the classroom, but they are also the ones under more financial pressure and often work second jobs. This health care shift would help reduce that pressure. I'd like to thank both bargaining teams for coming out with a proposal that reflects current reality but also treats our children's teachers fairly and includes some interesting innovations. Now it's time for all of us, including parents and citizens, to pull together to make sure our kids get the education they need and deserve.

Liz Margolis

Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 10:26 a.m.

Just a reminder...the school calendar is a negotiated item in the contract. It is negotiated by both entities. It is not just set by the district.


Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 9:54 a.m.

I wouldn't mind school year round, quite frankly.

David Jesse

Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 8:39 a.m.

When the state passed the law mandating the start of school after Labor Day, it was done, in large part, in hopes that it would encourage tourism by freeing up families to take one last summer vacation trip.


Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 8:35 a.m.

Being re-introduced to the area after leaving Michigan for 34 years I kept waiting for the flood of students to hit the schools. Only after awhile did I find their was a mandate of starting school after Labor Day. In both Arizona (where my Children attended school) and Texas (my Son went to college) by mid-August they were up and running. The good thing was usually by mid-May they were done. I don't know which is prefered but I do recall growing up in Detroit not being too anxious for Labor Day to arrive. Is after Labor Day the prefered school start day for teachers and students alike?


Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 8:28 a.m.

To those who worry that a February break disrupts learning, I'd like to point out that research repeatedly shows this is what happens over the long summer breaks. I'm a teacher and a proponent of year-round schools (kids still have breaks but more regularly spaced and in shorter increments). The district says parents would not go for that. I'm curious...


Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 8:27 a.m.

Well said, Rici. And Ms. Shakleford, thanks for your thoughts on what my motives may be but I tend to agree with Rici. Having summer break start sooner is better in my opinion.


Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 6:38 a.m.

Getting paid for health care increase is more than what happened in our household last year, and the company said there would be no wage increase because of deflationary pressures, so no need, so still a good deal compared to this household... Often teaching in June means field trips, more field trips etc. Lots of time teaching is over after Memorial Day. People would complain endlessly if they didn't have their breaks.


Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 6:15 a.m.

Making an edit to previous post. When I said continue teaching when 3,4, or even 5 kids are out. I meant to say, present new material knowing that I will have to go back the next week and re-teach it to those kids who missed a whole week of material. And as for conditions come June, it gets hot and many classrooms don't have air to help cool the school. Can kids and teachers tolerate the heat, yes. Should they have to sit at their desk sweating and being uncomfortable, no. Instructionally sound, probably not.


Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 5:55 a.m.

As a teacher in the district it is disappointing all the way around. No pay increase, I saw that coming and there isn't much you can do. The midwinter break is a joke, especially when it doesn't align with UofM and EMU. I like how our district can't justify aligning it because of lengths of time between breaks. What about parents who will take there kids out of school during the UofM break, regardless of whether the AAPS is having school? As a teacher, am I suppose to continue teaching when I could have 3, 4 maybe even 5 kids out because parents chose to take them? Is that instructionally sound?? As for getting out June 18, I would ask our higher ups in the district to come sit in my classroom in June and tell me that kids are learning. I hope AAPS has a plan for cooling these classrooms in a way that will allow kids to tolerate June heat. My building can get up to 100 degrees if the temp outside is in the 80s. The overall calendar isn't set up very well. AAPS needs to get in line with other WISD schools, have a long weekend in FEb. and get out on June 11/12.


Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 2:22 a.m.

"If they choose the lower-priced HMO, they'll get money back from the district." Money back for other health care needs, or is this money teachers can use for anything? Kinda like a pay increase? How much money will they get back from the district?


Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 9:23 p.m.

I'm one of those who think that having two breaks (midwinter and spring) is silly. Liz Margolis states that the midwinter break can't be coordinated because "would give only 4 weeks of instructional time between the mid-winter and spring break." - but how much time does this February break give between the Christmas/winter/holiday break, and mid-winter? Not quite 6. Doesn't that disrupt instruction momentum? What's the point? So they're off for a week, back for 5 weeks, then off for another week. Truly silly, and certainly disruptive. Why not get rid of that double break and end school a week earlier?

Liz Margolis

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 8:21 p.m.

Yes Haran, they were. This is a "new day" with the Local media allowing us, no asking us, to respond. Let's see how this goes!

Haran Rashes

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 6:34 p.m.

Thank you to Liz Margolis for her clarifications. I assume that they were presented in your official role.

Ms. Shackleford

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 5:35 p.m.

Barb-some of these breaks are hard on those who work at U of M as well. U of M staff do not get that week off, just the students. But really, I think it is good for the kids to have a break. Yes, it is hard for some parents, but I think a lot of parents just don't want to have to spend time with their kids!

Ana Hotaling

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 5:08 p.m.

It's about time! Almost every other AAPS union has had freezes and cut backs or losses of benefits, but the teachers kept earning and earning. It's important to realize that without the secretaries, IT assistants, transportation dept., and other AAPS staffers, schools simply wouldn't function no matter how much teachers are paid. It's time that the inequality is addressed, and I'm glad to see that the teachers are the ones suggesting the pay freeze. It's the right step, especially with this economy.

Liz Margolis

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 4:24 p.m.

The millage vote will be on November 3rd, not the 4th, as stated in the article. On the calendar issue with the mid-winter/U of M break - the district has always tried very hard to coordinate the U of M spring break with the AAPS mid-winter break. In the past 7 years, I believe, we were unable to do this once. But with the advent of the county-wide common calendar, starting this year in Ann Arbor, spring break will always be held the first full week of April, regardless of when Easter falls. Thus there will be time, such as this year, when we can't justify coordination of the two breaks because it would give only 4 weeks of instructional time between the mid-winter and spring break. We know this causes a hardship for families who rely on the coordination of the UM/AAPS breaks but it is not educationally best practice to have two week-long breaks so close together. On the Skyline calendar issue with Huron and Pioneer - all schools will be able to now plan the rest of their school year and post their individual school calendars. Because Skyline operates on a trimester schedule it is likely that the high school calendars may not coordinate.

David Jesse

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 3:56 p.m.

Liz: Thanks for the correction and clarifications on the other two points. David

Liz Margolis

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 3:46 p.m.

The millage vote will be on November 3rd, not the 4th, as stated in the article. On the calendar issue with the mid-winter/U of M break - the district has always tried very hard to coordinate the U of M spring break with the AAPS mid-winter break. In the past 7 years, I believe, we were unable to do this once. But with the advent of the county-wide common calendar, starting this year in Ann Arbor, spring break will always be held the first full week of April, regardless of when Easter falls. Thus there will be time, such as this year, when we can't justify coordination of the two breaks because it would give only 4 weeks of instructional time between the mid-winter and spring break. We know this causes a hardship for families who rely on the coordination of the UM/AAPS breaks but it is not educationally best practice to have two week-long breaks so close together. On the Skyline calendar issue with Huron and Pioneer - all schools will be able to now plan the rest of their school year and post their individual school calendars. Because Skyline operates on a trimester schedule it is likely that the high school calendars may not coordinate.


Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 3:33 p.m.

Mr. Satchwell's comments on behalf of the local teachers union are very encouraging. If everything is truly on the table taxpayers may be willing to pass the millage. The trouble will be finding out how serious the teachers are about real change before the vote in November.


Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 2:37 p.m.

I personally would love to see that mid-winter break go away entirely. UofM or EMU-employed parents had it easy. Those Feb. breaks are nightmare for parents employed elsewhere.


Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 2:15 p.m.

Wow. Yeah. I agree on the calendar. This is nuts. With so many parents attending the U or EMU or employed by them, this is a crazy calendar.


Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 2:13 p.m.

David--at least last year, the days off at Skyline were very different from the Pioneer/Huron/Community or Elementary School schedules. Can you find out if there are plans to coordinate those better? They don't appear to be represented on the calendar pdfs that you posted. And in general--are there any plans to either make all the high schools go on a trimester system or switch Skyline off of the trimester system, ESPECIALLY given the reduction of the Algebra 2 state requirement? There would be a lot of advantages to having all the schools on the same schedule, especially if there have to be cutbacks in things like AP classes. If they were on the same schedule, maybe kids who wanted to take AP physics could take a bus to Pioneer from Huron, and kids who wanted to take AP chemistry could take a bus from Pioneer to get the idea.

David Jesse

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 12:47 p.m.

I'm scheduled to talk to Superintendent Todd Roberts sometime this afternoon and union president Brit Satchwell shortly. I'll ask both. Any other questions I should ask?

Haran Rashes

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 12:46 p.m.

Can please look into and report on why the Ann Arbor Public Schools is not coordinating the Midwinter breaks this year and next with the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan. For example, this year Ann Arbor Schools break runs from February 18 to 28 while U of M and EMU run from February 28 through March 6. This is not consistent with past practices.