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UCS publicizes its offer to teachers

Union disputes district’s math

By: Eric Czarnik | C&G Newspapers | Published February 21, 2020

UTICA/SHELBY TOWNSHIP/STERLING HEIGHTS — The Utica Community Schools district and the Utica Education Association teachers union’s negotiations have taken a new twist amid their continued difficulties in reaching a contract.

On Feb. 11, UCS announced that it had added a website page that explains its stated position behind a three-year proposal it had offered to UEA teachers, which it tabulated at $20.3 million.

UCS and the UEA have been without a contract since the last one expired at the end of June. The UEA rejected the UCS offer in January — 13% of its membership voted in favor of it.

According to the school district, under the proposal, every teacher would have received a boost in compensation via accelerated step increases or an extra payout. UCS officials said the website gives three examples of how that would work, depending on a teacher’s rank on a salary step schedule.

According to UCS, the average teacher’s salary is $79,438, and with benefits and retirement included, the annual average total package cost is $121,832. District officials added that the deal would not have touched benefit packages. They said that amounts to spending $61 million for retirement and contributions mandated in the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, which funds Social Security and Medicare programs.

“Utica Community Schools is committed to finding a financially responsible agreement and a compensation package that is sustainable for the school district’s long-term future,” the district said in a statement.

In a statement, the UEA on Feb. 12 accused the school district of “faulty math and deception.”

UEA President Liza Parkinson called UCS’s public presentation “an insult to the bargaining process and our teachers” and accused the district of attacking the UEA “within our parent community.”

“Using a taxpayer-funded forum and mailings to mislead parents and the community on our ongoing negotiations again proves that our superintendent is consistently unwilling to bargain in good faith with our members,” she said. “The community should be appalled at her decision to use disingenuous and underhanded tactics to undermine this process.”

The union takes issue with, and calls “misleading,” the district’s assertion that UEA teachers are paid the most statewide. The UEA added that UCS’s explanation about teacher salaries in its offer contains examples that reflect under 0.5% of UEA members “and one initial teacher pay scenario that doesn’t actually exist.”

Parkinson said the district’s salary average is influenced by having some of the most veteran teachers in the state. And she said the teachers have endured reduced salary steps and pay cuts over a decade-long period — originally to help the district get through hard economic times.

“The real problem for the superintendent is that she has been fiscally irresponsible,” Parkinson said. “UCS actually suffered a decline in enrollment this year, yet still authorized approximately 80 new hires, far surpassing the need to replace retired teachers.”

Parkinson added that Superintendent Christine Johns has a salary and compensation package exceeding $350,000, which Parkinson called “the highest in Macomb County.”

The UEA said UCS has stated that teacher salaries have risen since 2013. But Parkinson said they’ve declined about 7% since the 2011-12 school year. She also brought up the sacrifices that teachers made through furlough days.

UCS and the UEA are continuing through a state mediation process. Recently, Parkinson said, the union has been with the mediator twice, though she said “neither session was productive.”

“We are still meeting with the district that is refusing to negotiate in good faith,” she said.

School district officials said the district will keep negotiating until a successor agreement arises. Michael Sturm, UCS’s assistant superintendent for human resources and transportation, said that UCS is committed to reaching an agreement that is financially sustainable for the district and the long-term future.

He also defended the accuracy of the data that the district relayed to the community.

“We are engaging in good-faith bargaining,” he said. “The information that the district put out is factual. The teacher salary information can be attributable to the Michigan Department of Education. … The examples that we shared in regard to scenarios are grounded in the actual and specific elements within the district’s contractual proposal.”

Sturm added that the human resources department keeps record of all new teacher hires, and the process for determining how many hires are needed includes considering student enrollment, retirements, resignations, promotions and more.

He said that last summer, the district had 64 vacancies and hired 64 teachers. While he said UCS has about 20 more teachers compared to last school year, that’s primarily due to state and federal grants. Those grants pay for hires needed for specific work pertaining to students who are at risk, who are in special education, who are in poverty or who speak minimal English, he said.

UCS spokesman Tim McAvoy also said the district is committed to fiscal responsibility, and he addressed the superintendent’s compensation.

“For the past 16 years, an independent auditor has awarded Utica Community Schools its highest standard for fiscal accountability to the community,” he said. “In addition, we’re nationally recognized for financial reporting.

“So the contract for the superintendent is between the Board (of Education) and the superintendent, just as the contract for the teachers is between the Board and the teachers association. The (UEA’s) comments are an action to redirect attention away from issues related to negotiations, and we remain committed to good-faith bargaining.”

Learn more about Utica Community Schools’ address to parents by visiting www.uticak12.org/negotiationsupdate. Find out more about the Utica Education Association by visiting ueaonline.org.