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School Board walks the gauntlet



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April 27, 2011 - The air was charged on April 20's School Board meeting, not because of any discussion item, but because of large number of Lake Orion teachers attending the proceedings.

More than 100 teachers, most wearing Lake Orion Education Association t-shirts, filed into the comparatively tiny meeting room in an effort to show their strength and concern for the board's failure to approve their 2011 contract.

The teachers in Lake Orion have been working without a contract since January.

A number of teachers spoke on the matter, with emotions ranging from genuine concern, anger and confusion.

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"The way this has happened is not how it's supposed to, and now how it's happened in the past," said one Lake Orion High School teacher, referring to the process in which new contracts are usually approved. "Before, the way it's worked, is that we and the administration send in negotiators, they work out an acceptable a deal, and then it goes before the board for official approval.

"When you negotiate and come to an agreement, one guy doesn't run up and slap the other one in the face, and that's what it feels like right now."

Most teachers said they had come to show their support of the board, yet a great number also expressed their concern with what had happened on April 13's meeting, when the contract was voted down in a 3-3 vote.

Trustee Webber-Philips was absent from the proceedings.

LOEA President Heather Olsen believes the vote shows some member of the board were bargaining in poor faith.

"Sometime after March 31, after the contract was approved and deemed fair, some boardmembers changed their minds, and we, as the teachers of Lake Orion Community Schools, are very disheartened," said Olsen. "They had the right to seek clarification, provide comments, and get information, and they gave the contract the go ahead, yet they still voted it down, so now we have to work with them and they have to work with their bargaining team to determine why they changed their minds.

"Both the teachers and the administration have negotiators, we bargained in good faith with the district, we had a contract that was deemed fair, throughout the process the boardmembers received updates on the contract's progress, and if there was ever a moment where they learned they would not have been in support of the contract, they could have put a stop on the proceedings instead of publicly voting it down. The LOEA feels those boardmembers that voted no did not show responsible behavior."

Board President Mary Jo Buchard said having a contract voted down in front of the board was very unusual.

"I've been here since 2000, and as far as I know this has never happened," said Buchard. "Whatever the reason, I'm disappointed that this matter is getting all the attention, because at the end of the day everything we do at the schools is for the kids, and I think sometimes we lose sight of that."

Trustee Kelly Weever, appointed to her position in May of 2010, said uncertainty over Lansing's new budget had probably influenced the vote. The budget is rumored to have a $7.5 million reduction.

"I think we all took a really hard look at what was on the table, and with our understanding that we are not aware of what is coming down from the governor's proposed budget, we could not pass the contract," said Weever. "I know this has never been done before, but I respect that it has to go before the board, and this showed that the passing is not just a formality.

"In regards to last Wednesday, I appreciate that everyone came together and showed their solidarity, but I think the evening ended on a sad note."

Despite word of being unsure of the budget, some other teachers at the meeting believed the move to be a political one, because every trustee that voted no is up for reelection.

"We don't understand why they voted if an agreement wasn't reached" said another Lake Orion High School teacher. "I hate to say it but it seems like this is politically motivated, because of the opinion right now that schools are over-funded.

"If that really is the case, I'm very disappointed."

Other teachers mentioned attending to show the strength of their union, their resolve, and to show that "they matter and without them there is no school district."

Yet another teacher mentioned the adoption of "slim scheduling" as a reason for her attending the meeting. She said teacher have been working with more students, with less class time since 2010.

LOEA President Heather Olsen believes the vote shows some member of the board were bargaining in poor faith.

"Sometime after March 31, after the contract was approved and deemed fair, some boardmembers changed their minds, and we, as the teachers of Lake Orion Community Schools, are very disheartened," said Olsen. "They had the right to seek clarification, provide comments, and get information, and they gave the contract the go ahead, yet they still voted it down, so now we have to work with them and they have to work with their bargaining team to determine why they changed their minds.

"Both the teachers and the administration have negotiators, we bargained in good faith with the district, we had a contract that was deemed fair, throughout the process the boardmembers received updates on the contract's progress, and if there was ever a moment where they learned they would not have been in support of the contract, they could have put a stop on the proceedings instead of publicly voting it down. The LOEA feels those boardmembers that voted no did not show responsible behavior."

Olsen also pointed out an irregularity in the proceeding of April 13's meeting, where "the same night they voted down the privately approved contract, almost $3 million was put into the LOCS general fund." The money came from a number of different sources, but one in particular, from the Federal Education Jobs Fund or "edujobs", has to be spent on employees, salaries or benefits or be revoked. Olsen said the money was spent on items including making the school wireless and five new special education busses.

After the meeting was adjourned, LOEA members lined the halls out to the parking lot, and watched as trustees left the building between them.

The contract is still under negotiations and the tie vote stands.

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