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September 18, 2013

Avondale Schools, teachers union sign new contract

By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer

ROCHESTER — After months of negotiations, the Avondale Schools Board of Education ratified the 2013-14 contract with the 198 teachers in the Avondale Education Association.

The union was in negotiations with Avondale administrators over the details of the contract — which went into effect Sept. 1 and covers the 2013-14 school year — for about six months, according to AEA President Walter Krell. The previous contract expired Aug. 31.

“We started early, anticipating that it would take a while,” Krell said. 

Avondale Schools Superintendent George Heitsch said that length of bargaining time has become pretty typical over the last few years.

“We don’t like it to take that long, but generally, by the time you have enough financial information to make good collaborative decisions, you’re into May and June anyhow, so it does take that long,” he said.

Heitsch praised the district’s staff for being collaboraative throughout the bargaining process, which he said is helping the district through its “financial emergency.”

“The contract maintained the programs that we have in place, that we all agree are good for kids and that our community values, and we’re pleased to be able to do that. And we didn’t lay anyone off this year, so it kept us pretty much at full employment,” he said.

Under the new contract, teachers will receive adjustments in health care expenses and salary advancements. However, Heitsch noted that the contract “really doesn’t reward anyone financially.”

AEA members selecting health care coverage will pay increased deductibles. AEA members who are below the 11th step on the salary scale will receive half-step salary advancements for the second semester, and AEA members at the top of the scale will receive an off-schedule payment for an increase in enrollment for every two students above 3,783.

“There are some very small incentives based on enrollment for staff members at the top, and there is a little bit of incentive for staff members that have been with us for 10 years or less, to get a slight increase of pay for the second semester only,” he said.

Krell noted that wages for AEA members have been frozen for 4 1/2 of the last five years.

“We have not had any advancement at all,” he said. “A half a step was all that the district thought they could afford. I’m pleased because it’s a step in the right direction; however, it’s certainly not what the young teachers had anticipated — to be frozen on steps for this many years with no advancement at all.”

Under the circumstances, Krell said, this is the contract the district needed to approve to allow the Avondale Schools system to exit its deficit at the end of this school year.

“This is something that we’ve had to do. I don’t know how many teachers are excited about doing it, but it just simply needed to be done — and it’s not the administration’s fault, nor is it the fault of the Board of Education. We have all worked collaboratively as a team to be able to make sure that Avondale got out of deficit. Fundamentally, the issue has been funding through the state of Michigan.”

Heitsch, who said the contract met the needs of the district’s deficit elimination plan, agreed.

“We’re scheduled to (be out of deficit at the end of the school year) and we’re very pleased. That would never happen without everybody in the school district helping us,” he said. “For a difficult economic situation, we made about as good a deal as we could.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond at malmond@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1060.