Before the Troy Board of Education’s meeting May 21, Troy School District teachers and supporters picketed at the Troy School District Services Building.

Before the Troy Board of Education’s meeting May 21, Troy School District teachers and supporters picketed at the Troy School District Services Building.

Photo by Sarah Wright

Troy teacher picketing continues as contract negotiations continue

By: Sarah Wright | Troy Times | Published June 6, 2024


TROY — Contract negotiations continue for Troy School District teachers, who have been working without a contract since Feb. 1. While the Troy Education Association has been bargaining since November, TEA members say they are concerned about the delay.

“The Troy School District is sitting on a massive fund balance, yet district leaders refuse to fairly compensate local teachers and treat us with dignity,” Alex Benitez, a teacher at International Academy East, said in a press release. “Troy students deserve great teachers who can provide our kids with the education and skills they need to succeed. That can’t happen if talented educators continue to leave Troy for other school districts that pay considerably higher salaries and provide better working conditions. Local educators, students and parents deserve better from our elected officials on the Troy Board of Education.”

The district’s fund balance is $32 million, of a $190 million budget. That is just under 17%. The average fund balance in Oakland County is 16%.

“We are slightly over the average in the county,” Kendra Montante, the director of communications and strategic initiatives, said in an email. “Best practice, as identified by our auditors, suggests that school districts maintain approximately 15% fund balance in order to meet cash flow needs during the months when the State provides NO foundation payments. With that said, we have agreed to utilize a portion of our fund balance to settle the contract.”

In a May 21 update, the district said administrators are looking for a competitive compensation package that “will attract new and retain current staff and is sustainable over time. Both parties agree that Troy’s pay schedule should be aligned and among the tops in Michigan, and both teams will work collaboratively to that end. This year’s bargaining cycle across the state has been uniquely complex due to several formerly prohibited topics such as evaluation, teacher placement, etc. This has elongated the bargaining process here in Troy and across the state.” The district said it plans to use a portion of its fund balance to settle the contract.”

In order to promote their goals, Troy teachers have worn black and blue on different days throughout their working week, attended school board meetings to advocate for contract negotiations, and picketed.

Recently, the teachers and their supporters gathered at the Troy School District Services Building at 4420 Livernois Road at 5:30 p.m. May 21, prior to the school board meeting planned later that day.

“It’s been stressful,” Sara Ritter, a special education teacher at Boulan Park Middle School, said. “Teacher morale has been very low, though community support has been phenomenal, because they’re upset we don’t have a contract. Troy has a world-class reputation, and we need to be able to recruit and retain the best teachers.”

Teachers who have or had family members attending school in Troy have expressed their concerns with the continued negotiations.

“It feels like this is taking longer than it should, like they’re stretching out the process,” Chris Rich, a Troy High School teacher with kids who have attended school within the district, said. “We want the stability to care for these kids, and it feels like the time for quiet stability. I certainly hope something gets done before the next school year.”

Retired teachers like Larry Smartt, who’s taught for over 30 years, were also present for the picketing before the May school board meeting.

“For us to have to be out here begging for salaries, the disrespect is starting to show its evil head,” Smartt said. “Once we found out about the picketing today, we sent word out to come and show support. Whenever we can make it, we’ll be here.”

The TEA and the district have had multiple bargaining meetings in May, some with a mediator from the Michigan Employment Relations Commission present.

“Both bargaining teams are pleased to report that the session was very productive.  Although there are still a significant number of high-priority language items that must be addressed at the bargaining table, we have likely reached a settlement on both finances and the calendar,” Kendra Montante, the director of communications and strategic initiatives, said in an email. “The teams are scheduled on Thursday, June 6, and Tuesday, June 11, to work on these additional items. If we are unable to resolve these important language items within this timeframe, additional bargaining sessions will be added.”

Both bargaining teams aim to have a tentative agreement in place before the end of the current school year, though any agreement would have to be ratified by both the TEA membership and the Board of Education.

“The Troy School District provides all students with a world-class education. The truth of the matter is Troy teachers are the essential ingredient in helping Troy reach this milestone,” Jason Cichowicz, a former fifth grade teacher of 18 years and current president of the Troy Education Association, said in a press release. “For this to continue, Troy needs to do everything imaginable to build a competitive teacher contract that recruits and retains the best teachers. After all, a teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love for learning.”

Follow the Troy Education Association on Instagram at @SupportTroyTeachers.

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