July 02, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
The Lake Orion Board of Education unanimously approved a three-year contract with the Lake Orion Education Association (LOEA) affecting approximately 446 teachers in the union and saving the district nearly $700,000.
All of the teachers — whether a two-year teacher or a 25-year veteran — will feel a financial impact, especially in the first year.
The contract was approved at the board meeting on June 25. It took effect July 1, 2014 and will be in place through June 30, 2017.
According to Jeff Faber, LOEA President, 97 percent of teachers voted "yes" to the contract prior to the board approval.
"It's really unique to have both sides in concurrence. It's a reflection of how we are really working together," he said.
What made this agreement possible was the teachers' recognition of the difficult financial times facing all districts, he added.
As such, each year the contract has something different in store regarding teachers' salaries.
The first year is a bit of a rough start, Faber said. The contract freezes all pay for teachers on the step scale and reduces salaries for veteran teachers and teachers who also head extracurricular activities, such as coaches.
"We really wanted to spread out the sacrifice so no one group was affected," Faber explained.
Come the second year the freeze is lifted, teachers on the pay scale move up a step, and the pay for veteran teachers and coaches returns to normal. Coaches will even see an additional cost of living adjustment. Year three is similar to year two, with a modest increase in merit pay, around $50, Faber said.
From the school's perspective, the first year produces a significant reduction in cost to the district. The second year Lake Orion is able to restore some of those wages, and the third year will see a wage reopener depending on how healthy the budget is in 2017, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Bill Putney said.
"The impact touches everyone no matter which positions they're in, and I think they deserve an unbelievable amount of respect for their willingness to do this," he said. "There are no additional percentages of increase in this agreement over the three years," he added.
A financial forecast during the schools' preliminary budget assessment in February determined the district was headed towards a $1 million deficit, $700,000 which was avoided through the LOEA contract, and another $300,000 it hopes to make up with schools of choice applicants.
"We have a great relationship with the union. They understand that the money is not flowing," Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Business John Fitzgerald said.
Of the 11 teachers that were laid off in May, five have already been called back, and positions may possibly open for the other six, Fitzgerald and Putney concurred.
"We did not want to impact programming. We did not want to look at severe cuts. We were willing to look at class size but modestly—not to blow the tops off—so the nice thing with this agreement is we were able to sustain our level of staffing, add to some programs, and at the same time have a budget that meets the containment perimeters to get us to a balanced budget for fiscal 2015," Putney said.
A few years ago the school board voted "no" on LOEA's proposed contract, so this year's compromise was a "terrific bit of collaboration on both sides."
"The administrators and LOEA were really on the same page," Faber said. "The board we have now is really a fantastic group. They are doing a great job with the finances, and they definitely recognize the contributions of the teachers. We are very fortunate."