Teachers, board reach a deal

Friday, November 12, 2010

A compromise was reached Wednesday night between representatives of Marshall County's teachers, and the Board of Education's management team. Now only ratification by the full School Board and by members of the Marshall County Education Association stands between the teachers and a completed contract for the current school year that began three months ago.

Kathy Stapleton of the MCEA opened the session by stating that her members want 80 percent of their health insurance premium paid by the employer, while Lyn Stacey, speaking for management, said they would prefer to specify dollar amounts.

Stacey said members of the School Board believe that an agreement with a fixed percentage would make budgeting difficult.

The insurance question has been complicated by open enrollment, which ran from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, and by the 16 choices available. Both providers - Cigna and BlueCross BlueShield - offered both "standard" and "partnership" plans for each of four classes: employee only, employee plus children, employee plus spouse, and employee plus spouse and children.

Potentially, there could have been 16 different dollar amounts in the teachers' contract, specifying the employer's contribution to each type of insurance. At the Board's request, Stacey said, it had been condensed to four dollar amounts, one for each class.

"I think the board is trying to do what it can," he said. "We're doing the best for everybody, within the budget."

"We have to try to give everyone as much as possible," argued Stapleton.

Both sides agreed they were not that far apart: the dollar amounts were within a few percentage points of the 80 percent figure.

The management team left the room for a caucus, and when they returned, Stacey announced they would stand firm on their four dollar figures.

"I think this is a good deal," he said. "Very fair and equitable."

"Welcome to four years of frustration," exclaimed MCEA member Patty Hill from the audience of about a dozen teachers who had come to see their association at work.

The MCEA team then left to caucus, and brought back a slightly higher set of figures.

"We realize money's tight," said Stapleton, "But we know there's money in the budget to pay for this. It's fair to all members."

Management left the room again and stayed away for 20 minutes.

"As a team we agree to it." Stacey announced when they came back, though he added he was not entirely confident the Board would approve it.

The next step will be getting ratification from both the School Board and the MCEA members.

Stapleton said getting a vote from teachers would not be a problem. "We could do it pretty quick," she said.

"We'll move as fast as we can," Stacey assured MCEA members, though it may not be fast enough to be reflected on the November pay checks.

Once the insurance clause of the contract is ratified, negotiations are over for the time being. MCEA plans to start meeting again in February to lay the groundwork for next year, when, potentially, the whole contract could be opened up for re-negotiation.

On the MCEA team were Stapleton, Wanda Odom, Lori Beardsley, Sue Petree and Betsy Bishop. Appearing for management were Stacey, Lisa Ventura, Susanne Ingram, Dee Dee Owens, and Sheila Cook-Jones. Miley Durham of the Tennessee Education Association was there in support of the MCEA.