Southfield teachers battle school board over spring break change

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published September 1, 2015

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SOUTHFIELD — According to Lori Tunick, president of the Southfield Education Association, teachers in the Southfield Public Schools district are not happy with recent changes the Board of Education has made to the district’s calendar.

Members of the SEA are angry with the district because of changes made to their school calendar after it was already approved and signed by both parties. Tunick said the district imposed a new calendar upon the group by changing the dates of spring break. The school district said the changes were made due to a late Labor Day.

The dispute began June 29, Tunick said, when the SEA and the school board reached an agreement on the district’s calendar, including breaks and holidays. Tunick said both parties signed the agreement June 30. Tunick said SPS Superintendent of Human Resources and Labor Relations Vickie Hall also signed the agreement.

By July 1, the calendar was distributed to the roughly 490 members who make up the SEA, she said. 

Now, Tunick said, the district wants to change the agreement, essentially imposing a new calendar on the staff of the school district.

“(All schools) have a mandated spring break and what everybody calls the Christmas break, where you must take these specific weeks off,” Tunick said.

Specifically, the district wishes to change spring break, Tunick said. All school districts within Oakland County, as well as individuals who work for the county, take a weeklong break during the first week of April, regardless of when Easter is, Tunick said. The break was changed from April 4-11 to March 25-April 4.

Tunick said she was notified of the proposed changes, but told the district that the union wasn’t interested after discussing it with her bargaining team, since the calendar was already sent out to the members.

“The calendar is a mandatory subject of bargaining. By law, they have to bargain the calendar and both sides have to agree on it,” Tunick said. “I told them we would be filing an unfair labor practice. They told me they didn’t care — they were going to impose their calendar.”
Although filing of the unfair labor practice charge is still in the early stages, Tunick said she is hopeful that the SEA’s case will be heard, since the dispute involves more people than just the SEA.

The changes could also affect parents who have already made vacation arrangements for spring break.

“This is a big concern for the public. Parents that have potentially made holiday arrangements will have done it for the wrong week,” Tunick said. “The whole point is that if I live and work in Oakland County, my children and I are going to have the same breaks. Some schools in Oakland County will have one break, and the kids in Southfield will have another. The whole reason the county went to a common calendar is to prevent stuff like that.”

Tunick said she and the union are shocked at the district’s conduct.

“The district imposing a calendar when we have an agreement is disrespectful to me, my members and the bargaining process. It’s mind-blowing that we would have a signed agreement and they would back out of it. I wouldn’t do business like that, and it’s astounding the district would do business like that.”

Jacqueline Robinson, SPS public relations and marketing manager, released a written statement on behalf of the district and Hall.

“Educating our students effectively is our first priority. Due to Labor Day falling later in the school year, it was necessary for the district to adjust the dates of the calendar to ensure that the semesters were evenly distributed,” Hall said in the release. “Because we value our employees, we adjusted the date for spring break so that our staff could enjoy more time to spend with their families. The changes do not create a longer school year; the last day of school remains the same, as well as the length of time off for the breaks.”

Robinson released another written statement Sept. 1 on behalf of Superintendent Dr. Lynda Wood

“We continue to remain open to discuss any issue or concerns our members may have,”  Wood said in the release.

Robinson could not be reached for further comment on why the district did not consider the Labor Day holiday before the calendar was made.

Tunick said the district chalked up the changes to “educational continuity,” without further explanation or mention of a late Labor Day. Robinson could not be reached for further comment on what the SEA was told the reason for the changes was.

In June, the Board of Education approved Imagine 2020. The initiative is a plan that the school board adopted to majorly reconfigure the school district. It includes hiring and wage freezes, as well as the closure of schools. In 2016, Southfield High School and Southfield-Lathrup High School will be merged into one school at Southfield.

Tunick said in June that teachers were not consulted on the changes.

School board President Rance Williams did not return requests for comment by press time.

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