Madison HeightsAugust 10, 2012
Teachers settle contract with Madison district
By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer
MADISON HEIGHTS — For months, teachers in Madison District Public Schools have been fighting to overturn a 10 percent pay cut retroactive to September 2011. Now they’ve settled with the Madison Board of Education on a compromise.
All pay reductions from September 2011 through March 2012 will be returned to the teachers. The 10 percent pay cut from April through August remains in effect. Then, when the new school year starts in September, it will be reduced to 8 percent.
The 77 members of the Madison Education Association (MEA) ratified the contract Monday, Aug. 6, and the Madison board approved the contract the same evening.
Madison Superintendent Randy Speck said it was a historical moment, as the impasse had endured for three years and around 30 bargaining sessions.
“I think the satisfaction that I feel is for the district itself, the teachers and the community,” Speck said. “This has been going on for years, and I’m glad the leaderships came together and got this thing worked out, because now we can go into the new school year with a new sense of momentum.”
The MEA had previously appealed for a preliminary injunction against the district in Oakland County Circuit Court, but was denied by Judge Colleen O’Brien May 16. The MEA then turned to the Michigan Employment Relations Committee, where hearings were to be delayed until Sept. 14. As part of the new agreement, the MEA will drop all charges pending in court.
“Judging by how slowly the law moves, and by how slowly the court decisions move, it’s the best we can possibly hope for,” said Calvin Mott, executive director of the Michigan Education Association — South Oakland Districts Association. “I think at this point in time, the district knew that going retroactive wasn’t legally possible, and they were fighting against time on this, which is why I think they gave us the retro back. I think they were righting a wrong that was there, and I’m pleased they are.”
In arguing their case, the MEA had pointed to a precedent set in a ruling by Administrative Law Judge Doyle O’Connor regarding retroactive pay cuts, made during a 2007 dispute between Detroit Public Schools and Teamsters Local 214, which represents security guards and other district employees.
O’Connor wrote: “It is entirely different, and improper, for an employer to accept labor performed at a compensation rate actually offered and paid, and to then seek to retroactively reduce that rate by recouping, for the employer’s own benefit, wages or benefits already tendered to the employee.”
The other part of the teachers’ case was Deductions from Wages — Michigan Compiled Laws, Section 408.477, Section 7, 4d, which states the deduction cannot be greater than 15 percent of the gross wages earned in the pay period in which the deduction was made. Here, the deduction was about 26 percent.
The original 10 percent pay cut affected this year and next, as well as money already earned since school started last fall.
There is still a pay freeze, so teachers remain stuck on whichever of the 11 pay-scale steps they were at as of 2009-10, when they last had a contract. Teachers in Madison district are already the lowest paid in Oakland County. Madison district is also among the smallest in metro Detroit, with 77 teachers serving 1,300 students.
The dispute dates back to 2009, when negotiations for a 5 percent pay cut fell through. In March, the board and the MEA signed a tentative agreement for a 7 percent pay cut, retroactive to last fall, but the majority of union members voted against ratifying it.
When the board passed the 10 percent pay cut at a special session April 16, they did so based on a state-appointed fact-finder’s assessment of their finances. Originally, they had sought a 12 percent pay cut.
As of July 1, 2012, the district had a $2 million fund balance, in the black for several years now after 28 years in the red. But according to Michelle Schurman, Madison’s business manager, it wouldn’t last long if the teachers didn’t make concessions. If things had stayed the same, the district would’ve eaten into the fund balance by $650,000 by year’s end, and the fund balance would’ve been gone by the end of next year.
“We’re just trying to climb out,” Schurman once said. “If there were no concessions from the teacher’s union, our operating costs would exceed the revenues we are receiving, which would put us right back into an actual deficit next year. It’s that close.”
Now the two parties have met each other halfway.
“As in any labor relations, we need to get together and mend the fences, so to speak, to work together for the betterment of the students and the betterment of this district,” Mott said. “It’s going to take awhile. There are a lot of upset people, in many ways, shapes and forms, but we plan to work together to make this district the best it can be.”
Speck shared this sentiment.
“There are two things a district has got to have,” Speck said. “You’ve got to have financially stable operations, and you’ve got to be able to value and develop your staff. And doing both of those things simultaneously can sometimes be tricky. But through some really good financial management over the years, and with this latest agreement, we believe we can continue to move Madison forward.”
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