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July 2, 2013

Troy School District contract talks stalled

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Troy Athens teachers, from the left, Tom Cooker, Rob Holder and Josh Heppner walk the picket line at Athens High School May 21.

Contract negotiations between the Troy Education Association, the labor group representing teachers in the Troy School District, and district officials have been postponed until July 31.

The TEA contract expired June 30.

“No progress has been made,” said Al Merian, high school trustee for the TEA executive board. “There’s been no change at all.”

Freezes in step increases remain a sticking point.

In 2011, the TEA agreed to concessions that included an 11 percent contribution for health care benefits and the freeze on step increase pay raises, which saved the district more than $10 million over two years.

At the June 18 Troy School District Board of Education meeting, Board President Nancy Philippart said the board and its negotiating team intend to continue to act and conduct business in a professional manner.

“The board is trying to make intelligent decisions today to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the school district.” She went on to cite state cuts in the per-pupil revenue and School Aid Fund money. She said Troy teachers are among the highest paid in the state and that a recent job posting attracted more than 100 applicants, many of them experienced teachers from other districts.

“The difficult issue in negotiations deals with legacy, or permanent, costs. The board does not want to commit to ‘steps’ — automatic, annual, seniority-based compensation increases that will tie the district to increased spending each year, regardless of cuts in state funding or other financial hardships. Legacy costs are how neighboring school districts, municipalities and cities have gotten into financial trouble,” Philippart said.

She noted that the board has offered teachers on steps one  through 10 $4,500 the first year and $2,800 the second year. “We have also set aside $500,000 over two years for performance-based compensation,” she said.

“It would be easy for this board to just succumb to the picketing, the negative ads, the nasty letters and the pressure to sign up for automatic built-in legacy costs,” Philippart said. “The district would be fine for the next two years, but as the legacy costs compound in year three and beyond, the district would see its reserves depleted — reserves that have kept us from having to cut salaries, eliminate programs and make drastic changes in the middle of the school year.”

Last month, Debbie Rosenman, secretary for the executive board of the TEA, in talking with the Troy Times, questioned why the district’s general fund balance of $22 million, or 16.8 percent of the budget, could not be used to reinstitute the step increases.

The district has enlisted a mediator to assist with negotiations.

The next scheduled talks are July 31 and Aug. 6.

Kerry Birmingham, director of media and community relations for the Troy School District, said the district has no immediate plans to declare an impasse or to impose a contract.

“Hopefully, we’ll find a resolution as quickly as possible,” Birmingham said. 

Amanda Haller, a parent in the Troy School District, said the pre-written statement that Philippart read at the June 18 meeting doesn’t truly cover parents’ and teachers’ concerns.

“The numbers are not making sense,” she said. She said that around 40 of the top-paid teachers in the district plan to retire. “Couldn’t that cover the step increases?

“I’d love to see the board work with the teachers,” she said. “We love Troy.”

“The district’s team continues to bargain in good faith with the assistance of the mediator in hopes of reaching an agreement on a fair and equitable contract,” said Jasen Witt, assistant superintendent for human resources.   

Information on salaries for all Troy School District staff is available on the district website, www.troy.k12.mi.us.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.