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UCS, teachers union reach 3-year-deal

Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 20, 2020

 Utica Education Association teachers union supporters hold signs during a Utica Community Schools board meeting in 2019, back when the teachers and the district had no contract agreement in place. On May 11, the school board approved a three-year contract between the parties.

Utica Education Association teachers union supporters hold signs during a Utica Community Schools board meeting in 2019, back when the teachers and the district had no contract agreement in place. On May 11, the school board approved a three-year contract between the parties.

File photo by Patricia O'Blenes

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After more than a year of negotiations, Utica Community Schools and the Utica Education Association teachers union have finally approved a three-year contract, after not having one since last June. 

The UCS Board of Education approved the contract May 11. In a statement, UCS school board President Robert Ross called the contract’s passage “a good day.” 

“To negotiate under these conditions is extraordinarily difficult, and so I am very thankful to the bargaining team,” he said. “I know that everybody put in a lot of long hours and it was very difficult and challenging, but we have come to a resolution — we have a successor agreement.”

UCS Superintendent Christine Johns said the contract reflects a shared commitment for academic excellence. She said that despite recent challenges, both parties eventually reached an agreement. She said the district “bargained in good faith.”

“Bargaining is a process,” Johns said. “When resources are limited, negotiations can be difficult. However, the process of engagement pushed everyone to find common ground. And we found common ground, and we now have a contract.”

The school district says the contract is a budgetary increase of around $22.1 million. According to the school district, the three-year contract covers the 2019-20 school year and the next two, ending with the 2021-22 school year. 

Teachers may move ahead “three traditional salary steps” over the contract’s term. According to UCS Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Transportation Michael Sturm, the step increases will be phased out over the contract’s three years.

District officials said the salary schedule will increase 1% to 1.5% starting July 1. UCS says a Michigan Department of Education bulletin said the average salary for UCS teachers is $82,065. The successor contract is projected to raise that to $83,799, the school district said.

In addition, the contract increases teachers’ compensation rate for professional duties, or additional work outside the contract such as special training sessions, school officials said. The agreement also increases the compensation rate for co-curricular facilitation in district-sponsored school clubs, athletics and other student activities. The district will also offer an option to prefund teachers’ health care insurance deductible, and participants pay that back in increments through a payroll deduction, officials said.

“This helps in the event there might be some catastrophic event or a need for that money to be available right away,” Sturm said. 

The district and teachers have also finalized calendars for the next couple of years. For instance, the 2020-21 calendar will have students begin Sept. 1, and the last day will be June 11.

“The calendar is set unless there’s required changes ...  at the state level,” Johns said.

Now that the teachers’ contract is done, Johns said the district will next move into bargaining talks with other groups as it moves into next school year.

“Bargaining is part of doing business,” she said. “This contract allows the educators to focus their efforts on what is critically important during this difficult time: We remain committed to educating our students and ensuring that our graduates are prepared to make a difference both locally and globally.” 

UEA President Liza Parkinson said her union’s teachers overwhelmingly voted in favor of the new contract.

“This provides us the security to really focus on what matters: our families and our kids, and by that, I mean our students,” she said.

Parkinson said she thinks the contract agreement fell into place because both parties realized that not having a contract during this time was hurting the UCS community.

In terms of how teachers will fare from the deal, Parkinson said the teachers were 5 ½ steps behind on their salary schedule before the new contract. She said that, even by the time the new contract is done, they’ll still be 3 ½ steps behind.

She disagreed with the district’s cost estimate of the plan, believing instead that the increase figure is “closer to $19.8 million.” She also objected to the district’s citation of teacher salary figures.

“I think that’s just being aggressive toward us. Our community is in pain right now, and my teachers needed a raise, and there is no shame in that,” she said. “It feels like they’re trying to make us out to be the bad guy. … This will be my first raise in 10 years.” 

She added that looking at the average salary is the wrong approach, and if it’s mentioned at all, it should be the median instead.

“You want to have a high scale because that’s how you attract the best teachers, and we have a teacher shortage right now,” she said. 

UCS spokesman Tim McAvoy said the median teacher salary at UCS is currently $85,556. 

Find out more about Utica Community Schools by visiting www.uticak12.org. For the Utica Education Association, visit www.ueaonline.org.

Call C & G Newspapers at (586) 498-8000.

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