Source: Sherman Publications

Teacher strike unlikely, union chief says
Union, school board ready to vote on new contract

by Wendi Reardon

April 06, 2011

A recent letter from the Michigan Education to their members has many speculating a strike is coming - but Brooke Davis says no.

Davis, Clarkston Education Association president, said MEA sent a letter asking for a vote to call for crisis activities, including letters to state legislators, rallies against Governor Rick Snyder's plan to cut public school funding by $470 per student, and a work stoppage is a last resort.

"I don't read it as a strike," he said. "I have been up to Lansing and talked to the MEA and it is not what they intended. Most of the letter was just about legislation and legislatures not working with us."

Clarkston teachers and administration have been negotiating a new contract using the ACCORD collective bargaining process.

"The ACCORD team has presented it to the members," said Davis. "Some of it has gone to the board members and we are going to be voting on it when we come back from break."

The contract is for one year, he said.

"We have some serious issues and some tough times ahead of us. I am not sure we are over the hump yet but in Clarkston we have always worked together with the ACCORD process," Davis said.

Steve Hyer, Clarkston Board of Education president, agreed the ACCORD process works.

"The central theme is 'if it is a problem for you, it is a problem for us,'" Hyer said. "This process has survived difficult times in the past 20 years and I expect it to hold up into the future because I know the board and the CEA are committed to this process."

The MEA letter also asked local chapters to grant the union power to call for crisis activities, and also how members felt about it.

"We are all scared out there. We are scared for kids," said Davis. "There is not a lot more we are going to be able to do. Strike isn’t part of our talk. What is a part of our talk is what can we do to get them to work with us. We have ideas that can help contribute but it doesn’t seem like that is happening right now."

Teachers in Clarkston and around the state have already written letters, emailed and texted legislators and held rallies, he said.

"The letter (from MEA) did what it was suppose to do," added Davis. "It got a lot of people's attention."

Davis hopes concessions made by both sides eliminated most or all potential pink slips for teachers.

"With all of the bargaining units including secretaries, paraprofessional working with special education, transportation and custodians, all worked together to say if we could get on the same insurance program we could save a lot of money," said Davis.

Being on the same insurance program would save money with deductables and copays. Including the concessions teachers made, it will save the district $3-4 million next year.

"With that we are hoping not to see a lot of pink slips for the next year," he said. "We have some great teachers and we are doing what we need to do in the classroom. We would hate to see 35-40 students in the classroom and that is what the governor is doing cutting the money, not giving a lot of options and that leads to larger class sizes."

The difficulty with large classrooms is the students aren't able to get individualized one-on-one time with the teacher, cutting into their learning process.

Another cut would be with classroom aides, which Davis said help the teachers.

"They help kids that are struggling and the kids that are above and beyond," he added. "The teachers will continue to go above and beyond but there is only so much we can do."

While district employees and board of education members continue to voice their opinions to Lansing, Davis said the parents and Clarkston community can help, too.

Brooke understands cuts need to be made but his concern is letting districts decide where the cuts should come from.

"Let us decide if we are going to cut programs that are very expensive that we can't afford to run," he said. "What really irks me is here is a business man – a governor in Lansing - and legislators have no idea what we do in Clarkston. I think we do things right. They are telling us this is what you are going to do instead of us working it out amongst ourselves."

According to contract, Clarkston Board of Education has until the end of April to issue pink slips.