On the morning of Sunday, Dec 13, 2015 at 7:08 AM, PEA Chief Negotiator wrote an email to Portage (MI) Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bielang and the Board of Education.
Thank you for all of the work you do for the Portage Community and we hope you are able to spend some quality time with your family over the holidays.
Our teachers need your help. We would prefer to work out some current issues behind closed doors rather than in public.
We have stressed in negotiations the past few years that our percentage of the Adopted Budget has decreased. Two out of the past 3 years when we settled before our contract expired, our administration refused to grant any across the board increases to our teaching staff, while Administrators received a 1% and a 3% across the board raise.
Over this three year period, the teacher’s total percentage of the budget has fallen from 62% of the budget to 59.87% of the budget. Using available data received from the administration, the administration percent of the budget has increased from 5.97% in 2011/12 to 6.65% in 2014/15.
In the past, we exchanged data freely with our finance department. Now, we are told by our finance department to FIOA any data request. When we asked that it be delivered in an easily usable form, there has been no response.
Also, in the past when we settled contracts early, our members understood that if the financial picture changed for the better or worse, we would compensate for this, in the next round of negotiations. Recently, the Administration has refused to look at past situations once a contract is settled. When the District ended up with more funding than anticipated, the Administration has refused to be open to taking this into account during the next negotiated contract.
In recent negotiations, we have been asked to give the first financial proposal. When we do, we support our proposals with non-biased, accurate data. When the Administration presents their financial proposal, it is often without any numbers or support. We have to constantly request the data which supports why they think their proposal is fair.
Last spring, we were told there was no money in the budget for a raise or no money to reduce workload back to 5/7 in the secondary, and that it was more important to increase the fund balance. We were told repeatedly that their offer was the best offer we could receive that was within the B.O.A’s parameters. The Administration also refused to comment when asked what the Administration raise was planned to be.
Why is this happening? We used to work together to negotiate a fair contract for our teachers that was fair for all groups. All other groups, including the administration, would then receive a similar increase.
Much has changed! We all used to receive the same benefits. Now the District covers 80% of the health insurance cost for administrators and their deductible. The District covers 70% of the teachers cost for their Choices 2 health insurance, and does not cover the deductible cost if one chooses the same plan that administrators receive. This means if teachers and administrators were to receive the same percent raise, a larger percentage of the teachers raise would be needed to cover the insurance increase. This is why we consistently aim for a total compensation of 62% of the budget. Administrators now also have up to a $275,000 life insurance benefit (which we believe also includes a spouse), while teachers have a $30,000 benefit. There has also been an annuity merit compensation granted to administrators in the past.
Administrators also receive contract extensions. Our requests to reach a multi-year agreement have been denied the past few years. With the current laws, if we do not have a contract in place by June 30, teachers must cover all of their insurance cost increases and any step or raise is not retroactive like it used to be. We feel the Administration uses this as a “negotiations strategy” and are in no hurry to settle a contract. We believe in trying to be fair in negotiations not use delay as a tactic.
Over the past 7 years when there have been cuts in the budget, we have been very creative to keep the district on solid financial ground. We shortened the school year with a projection that there would probably be a few years of tough financial times. Our teachers understood that a shorter number of teaching day contract would have to be their financial increase for a while to help the District weather the storm. Our teachers understood and our negotiated contracts indicate that if we add days back in down the road, we would be compensated for them at that time. Also, to help offset the cuts, we agreed to teach 6/7 at the secondary level and the budgeted teacher/student ratio has increased making our average class size much larger. Almost all other I.B. school districts have their teachers teach 5/6 or 4/5. Our student day is also one of the longest (if not the longest). These issues do not seem to be seriously considered by our Administration.
This past summer, we ratified our contract in June. The contract we received in July to proof read included three withdrawn administrative proposals. It is normal to have small grammatical errors, but proposals that were not agreed to, should never be in a draft of a contract once it has been ratified.
In the past, when there were challenges in negotiations, both sides agreed to not having their legal counsel at the table during negotiations. All felt it was better for Portage people to make Portage decisions. Our teachers’ negotiating team still honor this idea.
Where do we go from here? We can’t keep the status quo! A fair financial amount for teacher compensation needs to be built in the budget instead of the proposed budget being used as a tool and a reason to offer us less than our fair share.
We welcome any ideas and involvement you can offer to help solve our current situation. We are open for any Board of Education members to join us in negotiations. Ideas could include a multi-year contract. We have had a 4-year contract in the past which has provided continuity instead of negotiating every year. We could have a re-opener each year to assess finances or agree to an across the board raise. A 4% across the board plus the amount of next years administrative raises seems fair. Using 62% of the Adopted budget should be a guide for quick resolution. We are seriously interested in going back to 5/7 in the secondary, a 6-period day or a 5-period trimester, (which appears to be the standard for other I.B. schools).
We feel all groups in Portage should be treated fairly. What is good for one should be good for all!
Please feel free to respond to our Chief Negotiator Dave Laing thru email, or call Dave anytime at xxx-xxxx.
Thank you very much for your time and support.
Your Portage Education Negotiations Team