Union, board make no progress

Friday, December 5, 2008

Negotiations between the Board of Education and the Marshall County Education Association made no progress on Wednesday night, in spite of both sides expressing a desire to reach agreement soon.

"We were sincere about the money," said the Board's lead negotiator Craig Michael. "This Board definitely wants to do what it can with compensation to support the teachers and the whole education system. We had to reduce the budget by $1.1 million, but we didn't back off the $400,000. If we didn't want to take care of our teachers there would be no money there for negotiations."

"I don't know how we can get more money this year," he added. "Going through it again won't change anything."

The MCEA, led by Kathy Stapleton, refrained from talking about salaries and insurance for the moment and focused on some of the other articles.

These articles in the contract had been agreed on in negotiations that started in 2006, and both sides had decided at one of the early sessions not to re-open them.

Michael, however, had studied what was written and found some questions.

He asked about Article 18, which talks about current employees having the "expectation" to be preferred for promotion over applicants from outside the system.

"If you can't promote from within your organization you've done something wrong," agreed Michael.

"We were trying to get the politics out," said Stapleton.

"It's a morale booster for our teachers," said Louis Scheuchenzuber, another member of the MCEA team.

"It goes along with our current administrative policy," contributed Mitch Byrd, another member of the Board's team who is also human resources manager for the school system,

The group agreed to leave Article 18, and moved on to Article 10. This deals with "due process" and "just cause." Stapleton said that in the past forced transfers of teachers had been used to generate fear.

"Yes," said Scheuchenzuber. "We had supervisors and principals sent back into the classroom - there was even a lawsuit about four years ago."

"Obviously that should never be the case," said Michael. "We will not let that happen."

"Let's take a look at it," said Stapleton.

Changing the subject, Scheuchenzuber asked "Why can't we use $90,000 of the fund balance to help with the insurance?"

Janet Wiles, the system's budget director and the third member of the Board's team, explained how the fund balance was calculated and how it had to be kept for emergencies.

Wiles pointed out that they were really negotiating backwards since the budget had already been determined and the school year is underway.

"Next time we're going to negotiate up front and then find the money," she said.

The MCEA caucused and came back with their proposal on Article 9 which deals with payroll deductions of association dues. They proposed that dues be remitted to them each month, that dues be pro-rated in the case of teachers who joined late, and that they would be given a list by Sept. 1 each year of the teachers who had joined MCEA.

This was agreed in principal to start on Sept. 1. 2009.

Discussion returned to the wording of Article 10, with Stapleton taking issue with some of Michael's proposed changes.

"We want to get a contract as soon as we can; we want to get a fair one," said Stapleton.

"If it would eliminate confusion, maybe we should start over at Article 1," offered Michael.

"The Board could reject what we agree," he added.

"Our teachers may vote it down since you haven't offered anything on the insurance," countered Scheuchenzuber.

The MCEA is going to take another look at Articles 9 and 10, and the teams will meet again next Thursday, Dec. 11, before the School Board meeting

"I'd like to see a conclusion so we can clear the air and move forward to areas that benefit the children of Marshall County," said Byrd after the meeting adjourned.