Source: Sherman Publications

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School district, teachers union okay new contract

by Andrew Moser

December 21, 2011

It will be business as usual when students return to school on Jan. 2.

The Board of Education unanimously approved a new teacher contract for the 2012-13 school year during the Dec. 12 Board of Education meeting at Lakeville Elementary.

The new contract is effective Jan. 1, 2012 and runs until August 31, 2013.

"I really feel that it is a fair contract and I was very pleased with the bargaining process," said Deputy Superintendent of human resources Nancy Latowski. "The OEA (Oxford Education Association) was very cooperative and we have a good relationship that helped us reach a fair contract.

OEA President Jim Gibbons was pleased to get the contract done before the end of the year.

"Obviously the conditions economically in the state and with the new state laws regarding health care (and) bargaining rights...made negotiation more difficult, (but) given those parameters, given those circumstances and given what other districts had to do, I'm very pleased with how the board and teachers worked together to come to a contract and a solution that worked well for both parties," Gibbons said.

The contract was ratified by 97 percent of teachers.

"The 97 percent acceptance of the contract shows very much that they, like all of us, feel that we are all in this together," board trustee Robert Martin said. "What a nice show of support on everybody's part to help the district in what are trying times throughout the state. We appreciate the teachers coming on board with that."

Within the new contract, teachers will have a freeze in their 2011-12 salary schedule. However, they agreed to take half of their normal step changes.

Tim Loock, the assistant superintendent of business of curriculum, said a number of teachers were eligible to receive a full-step, but they agreed to "receive half of that now."

"There were those who weren't eligible because of their placement in the salary schedule or were just hired, so in order to acknowledge their work and effort to some degree, they agreed to an off-schedule payment of $750," Loock said.

Gibbons said during pervious negotiations teachers would get a one or two percent raise.

"This time, we did a zero percent raise across the whole salary schedule," Gibbons said. "So the teachers who were frozen, the actual step they are on didn't have a pay increase, so instead they got $750 so they would be at least making a little more money than they were, if only for this year."

The district will be saving approximately $82,000 in the current fiscal year due to the salary changes.

Negotiations also included teachers switching to a higher deductible health care plan, which includes a hard cap.

"They selected a different plan so they will have a higher deductible, but the premium is less," she said. "They will still be contributing, but they will have a deductible ($500 for individual; $1,000 per family) they will have to meet."

Starting in 2012, an employer could spend no more than $15,000 on family coverage; $11,000 for two-person coverage and $5,500 for an individual.

"From the district's standpoint, a hard cap can help us manage the health care costs," Latowski said.

The insurance switch, along with employee contributions, would save the district approximately $357,470 in the current school year.

Gibbons said the number one reason for switching to the hard cap was to "limit the amount and control the cost for both the employee and the school district over the short and long term."

"That hard cap becomes kind of a target," Gibbons explained.

"Obviously we are not below the hard cap number because we are paying part of our premium, but over the short term and really the long term, its to say ok, we are going to try and do an insurance plan that limits the cost to both the employee and the district."

When asked why the district decided not to do the 20 percent option, Gibbons said it would have cost the district and employee more when health care costs increased.

"When you multiply that out and look five years down the road, both groups are going to be paying more money," Gibbons explained. "With the hard cap number, (while) we may like what we did currently, we may tweak and change our plan to get us closer to that hard cap number."

He said the other issue with the 20 percent is that all the employee groups of the district would have to pay that as well.

"Once you start paying 20 percent, you are kind of on that track, and that is a substantial amount of money for some of our employee groups that don't earn as much money...paying 20 percent of their health care was a much higher percentage than if we gave them the option of doing the hard cap.

Latowski noted there was a clause in the contract stating adjustments can be made to the contract in Sept. 2012 if the districts fund balance dips below 10 percent due to the state of Michigan reducing funding to schools like they did this year.

"If the fund balance is below 10 percent, the steps increase will not be applied to their ongoing salary," Latowski said.

Gibbons noted a lot of language within the contract dealing with teacher placements, layoffs, recall, seniority and teacher evaluations were changed as well based on new state laws.