Teachers' contract meets optimism

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Marshall County School Board held their January meeting last night and was due to vote on ratification of the first-ever negotiated work contract between the board of education and the teachers, represented by the Marshall County Education Association.

MCEA members voted at their schools on Jan. 12 and the results were known by that night: out of a total of 209 members, 184 were in favor of the contract. Just two voted against it.

The school board held a work session that same evening, and reviewed the contract their negotiators had agreed with the MCEA team.

"Everyone had a good understanding of the contract (after the work session)," said chairwoman Ann Tears.

Tears refused to predict the outcome of last night's vote, saying, "We won't know until we meet."

"I'd be surprised if it wasn't passed," board member Randy Perryman said, adding, "I think they've done a good job of negotiating."

It took a lawsuit in chancery court to get both parties back to the table, but negotiations from October to December were friendly, though lengthy, as the MCEA team fought for better pay and benefits and the board's negotiators strove to remain within their budget, while doing the best they could for the teachers.

MCEA negotiators Kathy Stapleton and Louis Scheuchenzuber presented the contract to teachers at a meeting last week. The teachers applauded when Stapleton announced that, from the start of the 2009 school year, their money would be paid by electronic deposit.

They also applauded when she told them about the article that specified teachers already employed by the Marshall County school system would be preferred over outsiders when it came to applying for new jobs within the system.

"A lot of it is just putting into words what we've always had,"

explained Stapleton as she went through the 27 articles of the contract step-by-step. She said a lot of the articles in the contract had been written to address problems that had come up in the past.

"We're proud of the grievance procedure," she told the group.

"Hopefully we'll never, ever use it."

"Article 10 (due process and just cause) was a hard-fought one,"

Stapleton explained. "We're proud that it's good for us."

The percentage of the teachers' insurance premium paid by the school system had been a sticking point, and at some moments in the negotiations even seemed like a deal breaker.

Finally, Stapleton said, "We had to acknowledge insurance is a problem everywhere. We felt money for wages was more important because that stays.

"We couldn't get the board to agree to pay a percentage, but they did agree the dollar amount they are paying now, and that's about 77 percent," Stapleton said. "They have promised to look into insurance again next year."

The teachers are getting a 2.1 percent increase on their total pay, retroactive to the start of the school year. Taken with the increase they got a year ago, Scheuchenzuber points out that the total raise is about 4.1 percent. They're also getting a one-time payment of $150 in March.

If the Board voted in favor last night, the contract takes effect immediately and will 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 the contract "a working document," and "the beginning of a trusting relationship."

Janet Wiles, the board of education's budget director, says that the teachers' February paycheck will catch them up on the 2.1 percent pay raise earned since the start of the school year and subsequent checks will be calculated on the revised rate. The teachers will get the $150 one-time payment before April 30.

Wiles said they found the money for the one-time payment by not filling the attendance supervisor position, plus the savings from not running the buses on abbreviated days, and from the savings created by the moratorium on out-of-state travel.