Teachers, Curtis clash over insurance

Friday, September 11, 2009

Teachers' anger flared Wednesday at a meeting with the director of schools that was intended to give them some good news.

Stan Curtis told representatives of the Marshall County Education Association that the Board of Education had received a letter from the insurers, saying that instead of going up 10 percent in January, health insurance premiums were only increasing by four percent.

"All the things we negotiated are going to go down," announced Curtis. "The board agreed to pay 75 percent of the four percent because we had agreed to pay 75 percent of 10 percent. We can put the rest back in the fund balance. In reality it's costing you less money."

A loud buzz of angry conversation greeted this.

"You're putting your budget problems on the backs of the teachers," exclaimed the MCEA's Louis Scheuchenzuber resentfully. "You've got a dollar amount here and that's what we agreed to. We don't think the commission wants you to come back and ask for our insurance money."

"Wow," Curtis said. "There's some anger here! I thought I had good news - I guess I didn't."

"We accepted a lower percent (of the insurance premium paid) because you were going to start payments in August," said the MCEA's Kathy Stapleton, who explained later that MCEA had called the Board of Education because the pay checks their members had received since the start of the school year were not in accord with the negotiated contract. "You refuse to negotiate?" asked budget director Janet Wiles.

"This is not a negotiating meeting," said MCEA president Colin Beatty. "The contract was ratified on both sides. We will seek legal counsel and get back with you."

"We talked to our legal counsel," Curtis said. "If you don't want to negotiate, that's not good faith."

"You're not getting lower pay, we are," Scheuchenzuber said. "The teachers in this county think they have a contract with a dollar amount. We're going to have morale problems if we go back to them and say 'uh-oh'."

"You didn't budget correctly," said Stapleton. "You don't open things that we ask for. It works both ways."

"We proposed a percentage (of the insurance premium to be paid) in May," said teacher Lori Beardsley. "You said no - if we'd gone with a percentage it would have covered any error."

"The Board would be well served if they took a hard look at percentages, regardless of how this turns out," Scheuchenzuber said. "You budgeted for 10 percent and it's gone down to four - why not soften the blow and put a little less in the fund balance?"

"Yes, a percentage is fair for everybody," said MCEA negotiator Wanda Odom.

"We've being going backwards on the insurance front for several years," said Scheuchenzuber. "You'll have even more teachers leaving this County

"So. We've learned our lesson," Curtis said. "We're not going to have a budget, and Oct. 1 is when the state starts withholding funds."

"We can't say OK now," Beatty reiterated. "We have to get legal counsel."

"I don't want the hostility," Curtis exclaimed. "There's such a thing as an honest mistake. It's not going to cost us - or you - more money. I've never been to a commission and not asked for anything and still been turned down. I'm very proud of not laying off anybody, and nobody losing their job."

"We can agree things all day long, but if the commission won't fund it, it can't happen," Lyn Stacey, the newest member of the Board of Education's negotiating team pointed out. "Legally a contract is not binding until it's funded."

"I think the Board thought it was a winning situation for everybody," Wiles said. "You'll be paying less."

"We need to move on this quickly," she added. "They want the budget back by Tuesday."

The County commission is holding a public hearing on the tax rate and a special called meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 15. They will have a public hearing and a vote on the budget at their regular monthly meeting on Monday, Sept. 28.

"It was not a negotiating session," summarized Stapleton later. "Our president (Beatty) spoke for us."

"We came together as a courtesy," Scheuchenzuber said. "He (Curtis) said he had something he wanted to talk to us about."

"No one on the school board side was aware it wasn't a negotiating session," said school board member Craig Michael in a telephone interview Thursday. Michael, the only board member at the meeting, went on to say, "They're right: we have a signed contract; what's agreed is agreed. We obviously haven't communicated effectively - that's what's so frustrating. We've got to find a way to be open, honest and transparent, and do the best we can for the taxpayer and the school board."