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Teacher concessions save district $500K



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May 26, 2010 - The vote was an absolute landslide and the message was clear Oxford teachers are ready to sacrifice for good of their students.

On Monday, members of the district's teachers' union, the Oxford Education Association (OEA), voted overwhelmingly to open their contract and give concessions that will save the schools approximately $500,000.

"Keeping kids first is really what it's all about," said Oxford High School Band Director Jim Gibbons, who's served as president of the OEA for six years. "We wanted to make sure we're protecting students and student programs."

"(The vote) was a big deal on our end because we were actually under contract," Gibbons noted. "For us, to say we're going to go in and open a contract, in the MEA's (Michigan Education Association) eyes, that's a pretty big deal."

The MEA is the statewide teachers' union that represents 157,000 teachers, faculty and education support staff throughout Michigan.

In the 12 years that he's been with the district, Gibbons said this is the first time the teachers' have opened their contract.

The OEA contract was originally set to expire in June 2011, but because of this vote, it will now expire Dec. 31, 2011.

A whopping 84 percent of the Oxford teachers who voted Monday cast a ballot in favor of giving the concessions, according to Gibbons.

Just under 200 teachers voted.

"I think that in the economic times that we're in it is the responsible and smart thing to do, really," Gibbons said. "You look at what's happening in Oxford and the different concessions all the other employee groups are making . . . I think it was responsible for us to go in and say, 'we're taking part in the sacrifice, too.'"

"I don't think anybody wants to make a salary concession, but given the nature of what's going on right now, we felt that was the responsible thing to do," he added. "I think it's the right thing to do."

The concessions involved pay steps, a system based on years of experience, and health insurance.

"We delayed taking our (step increases) to January (2011, instead of September 2010), which saved the district in the neighborhood of $300,000," Gibbons said. "Because of the way salary schedules work, potentially, it's delaying (teachers') payment over the course of the rest of their career."

This step delay will not only save the district money for the 2010-11 school year, but for the following fiscal year as well.

As for the health insurance concession, Gibbons indicated "we're not paying premiums, but it's passing more of the cost of the health care onto the members."

"We're switching to a deductible plan and raising co-pays, so that more money's going to be coming out of pocket," he said. "When you do a premium thing, you're passing the increased cost of health care on to every single member, even the people who don't really even use health care. By doing it the way we did, we're passing the cost on to the people who use health care."

Gibbons explained the teachers concession has actually lowered the district's overall cost for health care.

"The district was due to pay more money for health care next school year and they're actually going to be paying slightly less than they paid this year. So, we lowered the cost of health care from this school year to next school year," he said. "When you think about the overall cost of health care and what health care does, the fact that we're making the cost of health care less next year is fairly big thing."

Gibbons noted the concessions the teachers are making in salary and benefits amount to 3 percent on average. Add in the fact that the state is going to require teachers to start contributing 3 percent toward their retirement benefits and it's really a 6 percent concession, he noted.

"We're lowering our income potential by 6 percent next year," Gibbons said.

Superintendent Dr. William Skilling was extremely grateful to the teachers and expressed his sentiments in a May 24 e-mail.

"I sincerely want to thank you and let you know how much I appreciate your demonstration of selflessness by putting our students first today," he wrote. "Your decision to take a concession has helped put our school district in a better financial situation."

"You made a personal sacrifice today! It was especially encouraging to see it pass by 84 percent! Wow!" Skilling noted. "I am overwhelmed by the level of support. When you compare the contrast of what is going on around us, how refreshing to be in Oxford!"

As a result of Monday's vote, Gibbons noted the OEA has changed its bargaining calendar, so it will now be doing contract negotiations with the district in the fall, instead of the spring.

There's too much speculation in the spring about issues such as state funding and student enrollment. In the fall, the state budget is in place and the district knows where student enrollment levels are at.

"The finances of the district are much more firm," Gibbons explained. "We have a better idea of where the money is. That's a good thing for the district and for the teachers."

aging to see it pass by 84 percent! Wow!" Skilling noted. "I am overwhelmed by the level of support. When you compare the contrast of what is going on around us, how refreshing to be in Oxford!"

As a result of Monday's vote, Gibbons noted the OEA has changed its bargaining calendar, so it will now be doing contract negotiations with the district in the fall, instead of the spring.

There's too much speculation in the spring about issues such as state funding and student enrollment. In the fall, the state budget is in place and the district knows where student enrollment levels are at.

"The finances of the district are much more firm," Gibbons explained. "We have a better idea of where the money is. That's a good thing for the district and for the teachers."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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