Teacher contract talks face uncertainty

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Uncertainty about money and people pervaded negotiations between the teachers and the Board of Education last week.

County schools representatives Lyn Stacey and chief negotiator Craig Michael, the only remaining members of the team, met members of the Marshall County Education Association on Thursday.

Michael's seat on the school board is in doubt until election results are announced tomorrow.

The county's team started with four members, but budget director Janet Wiles resigned, and the human resources position held by Mitchell Byrd has been eliminated, and, with it, his place on the team.

The school board is expected to name a management team and a negotiating team when it meets Aug. 9, and a chief negotiator will be also be selected, replacing Michael if necessary.

The schools' budget - recently rejected by the county commission's budget committee, is another source of uncertainty.

"It was more than disappointing," Michael said of the rejection. "If they can force that number, I don't know what we do."

No one at the meeting was quite certain what the rules were on Maintenance of Effort and the Fund Balance - two factors repeatedly mentioned by county commissioners when the school budget is discussed. More information is being sought on those state requirements.

The county schools budget and maintenance committees met Tuesday, and there was also a public hearing on the county's budget - published in a legal notice in Friday's Tribune with blank spaces for the amounts to be spent on schools and roads.

MCEA leader Kathy Stapleton brought three proposals to the table.

The first was a change to Article 10 of the contract, due to a change in state law. Now, for a hearing on the dismissal of a teacher, the state will provide an impartial hearing officer, rather than the School Board designating one.

The second concerns insurance.

"The number is out now," said Stapleton. The premium is decreasing, but premium amounts will vary and so will the cost to the school system, depending on "who takes what plan."

"I think you'll save money with the single person with a child, and the retiree without children," Stapleton said. "You don't have to carry family coverage any more."

She explained that benefits are changing as well, and Miley Durham from the Tennessee Education Association's UniServ staff added that the state had saved $8 million by putting the prescription plan with Caremark.

"Lots of people don't understand the options," said Stacey.

"These are significant changes," agreed Durham. "Someone will be coming around to the schools."

"There's open enrollment from mid-September to mid-October," said Michael. "That's huge. That's good news."

Stapleton's third proposal concerned an extra day of leave for the teachers.

She said association members took their time when deciding what to request, and finally decided that for one more year they will not ask for a pay increase, knowing the problems the school board is having with the budget.

What they will ask for, Stapleton said, is a local personal leave day, that can be taken in half-day increments, in addition to the two state-mandated days.

"The cost to the system is the substitute pay?" asked Michael.

"Right," answered Stapleton.

Michael quickly worked out that it would cost the system $20,000 per year if "everybody took every day."

Stapleton said she never takes off if she can help it, saying: "It's too hard to be gone." Others murmured agreement during the session last week.

Michael said he hoped to go over the proposals in a work session, rather than introduce them at the Board meeting.

Looking toward the uncertain future, Michael said, "If I'm not involved any more, it has been an honor and a privilege to work with you guys. We need to educate our taxpayers - they don't understand what our educators are asked to do. It's all about people, listening and trying to help."

Stapleton finished the session by thanking the board for the new computer equipment that has been finally been delivered to her special education classroom in time for the start of the new school year.