Union, board reach historic deal

Friday, December 19, 2008

A historic moment is expected to take place this morning as Marshall County Education Association and the Board of Education agree on a contract for the first time in our school system's history.

After a negotiating session Wednesday night, the MCEA and the board agreed that there remained nothing left to do but dot the i's and cross the t's at a meeting scheduled for 10:15 a.m. at Central Office, after school lets out for Christmas vacation. A press release is expected at that time

and will be available on our web site.

"We're so very close," said Kathy Stapleton, MCEA's lead negotiator.

"Yes, almost there," agreed Craig Michael, the board's lead negotiator.

Michael's team offered the MCEA a one-time payment of $150 each to all certified personnel.

"We think it's reasonable to do what we can," said Michael when he announced this, noting that Marshall County in recent years has lost ground to every surrounding county in terms of total compensation to teachers.

"That's simply unacceptable," he exclaimed.

The MCEA caucused for an hour and came back with their answer: they accepted the proposal.

"That's very much appreciated," said Michael.

The MCEA membership as a whole have to agree to the contract and so does the School Board, but neither side indicated they thought this would be a problem. When both sides have ratified the contract, then the Declaration page is signed and the contract is official.

Stapleton and Janet Wiles, the board of education's budget director, said that they could have the final version of the contract ready for submission to the teachers and the school board the first week they are back in school in January.

"We could do it in a day if we get serious," said Stapleton.

Stapleton pointed out that insurance was still a concern, but the MCEA now has some faith that the board will continue to work with them, and in view of this, and the current economic situation, they would agree to finalize the contract.

The new contract will hopefully come into force on Jan. 15, 2009, and run until June 30, 2011. Wages and insurance will be discussed every year. Discussion on any other article of the contract can be opened at any time, by mutual agreement.

Stapleton called it "a working document," and "the beginning of a trusting relationship."

"We're here to promote our system and our students; we have lots of good things happening in our schools," she said.

"Yes," agreed Michael. "Both sides care about what's going on in the classroom." Among the MCEA members present Wednesday night was Nancy Cheatham. Thirty years ago, the first year that state law allowed teachers to negotiate a contract; Cheatham was on the team negotiating a contract in Roane County. She will be retiring at the end of this school year, having been a teacher since 1968.