Washtenaw County teachers won't re-open contracts or take pay cuts, at least for now
Teachers in Washtenaw County school districts won’t be taking a pay cut or making other concessions - at least for now, they say.
Unions representing teachers say they’re declining to reopen their contracts as the local districts struggle to balance their budgets following state aid cuts and a failed countywide schools enhancement millage.
Recently, the Washtenaw County Education Association - made up of unions from Chelsea, Dexter, Lincoln, Manchester, Saline, Whitmore Lake, Willow Run and Ypsilanti - voted not to accept concessions or reopen labor contracts.
“We understand why they came to us immediately and asked for concessions,” said Ann Arbor teachers union President Brit Satchwell. “There’s a lot of things that have to happen first.
“We’re talking (with the district) to solve the problem. The wolf has been in the kitchen and is now headed to the bedrooms. The public has to show up and participate in public education.
“After the process is worked, then we’re willing to talk about concessions.”
Asking the unions
After county voters turned down the millage request and the state announced several per-pupil aid cuts, Chelsea Superintendent Dave Killips asked his entire staff to take a 1.25 percent pay cut for the year. That’s half the 2.5 percent raise they received at the beginning of the year.
He also asked employees to begin paying $1,000 for their insurance if they have others on their plan or $500 for a single subscriber.
If accepted, those measures would generate $430,000 in savings this year for the district.
The Chelsea teachers union tabled the request, Killips said. The school board imposed the wage and benefit change on non-union employees.
Chelsea administrators previously agreed to pay more for insurance and are accepting the same wage reductions. The bus drivers and monitors, as a union, will soon vote on concessions.
Killips said getting concessions from teachers would help the district handle the shortfall. "If we were all willing to give a little, we would be in a better financial situation this year,” he said. “By being in a better financial situation this year, it will allow us to better handle the projected shortfalls in the future."
Chelsea isn’t the only local district that’s gone to its unions, either formally or informally, to ask for concessions.
Most administrators and union officials refuse to talk about the requests publicly, saying the discussion belongs in negotiations.
Many local districts, including Ann Arbor, are expected to start formal negotiations in the coming months to set salaries for the 2010-11 school year.
In Ann Arbor, for example, the teachers union has a contract through the 2010-11 school year. However, that contract - which currently has a wage freeze - has a clause allowing the district and union to negotiate the salaries for the 2010-11 school year. Those negotiations are likely to begin in January.
The union response
In Saline, the school board directed Superintendent Scot Graden to reopen contracts with all the district’s unions after the millage failure and state cuts.
The educational support personnel and the managers association agreed to look at cost-savings related to health care benefits, officials said. The administrators union agreed in principal to wage and benefit concessions in both the current year and the 2010-11 school year.
The district’s teachers union is the one holdout.
“Could we still give concessions? Traditionally, we have,” Saline teachers union President Tim Heim said, pointing out teachers have saved the district thousands of dollars in health care costs.
Heim said he doesn’t think teachers should bear the brunt of balancing the budget, especially after voters declined to hurt their financial picture through taxes.
“So now, we should tax the teachers?” he said.
The bigger picture
Union presidents from around the county say they realize times are tough financially. They know their members are likely to be impacted, whether through layoffs, changes in benefits or reduced pay.
But they say before that happens, each community needs to talk about the future of education and what it should include. They also emphasize the problems affecting districts are coming from state-level decisions.
Lincoln teachers union President Jackie Shock said members of her union are already engaged in such discussion with district officials. She said the key is making sure the connection is strong between the schools and community.
Above all, Satchwell said, it’s time for communities to have tough conversations about education.
“The teachers will not be the easy button (to temporarily solve the problems),” he said. “(The residents) have to decide what they want and what they have money for. Then it will be the time to sit down (and work on modifying the contract).”
David Jesse covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 734-623-2534.