MCEA backs off insurance demand

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Marshall County Education Association backed down from their demand to have a fixed percentage of their insurance premiums paid by the Board of Education. They made this significant concession at the negotiating meeting Tuesday night,

"It took a lot of effort to switch from a percentage, but we are switching to a dollar figure," said MCEA lead negotiator Kathy Stapleton. "We hope that shows good faith that we are trying to negotiate."

"Our members feel strongly that there should be compensation for the extra insurance premiums that fell on them in recent years. They'd like to see an extra $300 in their May paycheck for that, and we think you should look to the fund balance to find that money," said Stapleton. "It would be a good gesture -- we're coming close (to agreement)," she added.

This proposal came after two hours of talking. The board's lead negotiator, Craig Michael, told the MCEA team that he had reported to the school board at their last meeting and the board had told him to "stay the course" and had insisted that a dollar amount -- not a percentage -- was what they would pay on the teachers' insurance.

"No doubt the Marshall County School Board would do as much as possible to help with any increase in insurance premiums," Michael assured the MCEA before they called for a caucus and left the room.

"I didn't work this hard when I was paid for it!" joked Michael as the three and a half hour session dragged on.

"We're trying to meet your demands," said Stapleton. "That's a big step for us; percentage has been the thing for a long time. We're trying to get a contract, so we'll meet you part way and accept the 2.1 percent pay raise."

"Oh no," said Michael. "To meet you on the insurance, the raise would not be available. The Board wants to focus on compensation from the salary point of view. If you want to use the $400,000 for insurance, not salary increases, we could look at that."

"That's not it!" exclaimed Stapleton.

"Drawing from the fund balance isn't going to happen," said Michael. "The county commission cut the budget we presented them by $1.1 million."

"Surely out of a budget of $36 or $37 million you can find $90,000," said Louis Scheuchenzuber, another member of the MCEA team, adding "We've come off the percentage and that's a big deal for us."

"Yes," said Stapleton. "It was the number one thing on our priority list."

"The fact is, $400,000 is what is there," said Michael.

"That's not how you negotiate," commented Scheuchenzuber.

"We fought hard for that money," replied Michael. "It would have been easy to cut it from the budget. We want to pay the teachers as much as we can afford, but there's a lot of needs in this system and only so much money. We don't know what more we can do this year."

"Can't you come up with the $90,000 to help us out?" asked Scheuchenzuber.

"I'll be glad to share this with the Board," said Michael. "Their message was 'stay the course'. They're doing the best they can to balance what the taxpayer can afford with what is needed in the system."

"I guess we'll see what the Board has to say," he concluded.

At their first meeting, the Board and the MCEA had agreed not to re-open any of the articles in the contract that had already been agreed in the previous negotiations. Michael, however, brought up some questions he had about the article that dealt with coaches and their supplements. This led to an acrimonious discussion, followed by a half-hour caucus, at the end of which Stapleton presented an MCEA statement that said, "We would like to have you go back to the original agreement not to re-open anything already agreed. We request you stick to that, and let's set another meeting date."

"It's the first contract and we want to get it right," said Michael. "We have a new Board and a new team, and we have not signed off on anything. We'll set a date and anything we have an issue with we'll provide you with ahead of time."

The dates of the future negotiating sessions were set for 5 p.m. on both Tuesday, Dec. 2, and Wednesday, Dec. 3, as well as at 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11, before the monthly school board meeting.