Archived Story

Teachers protest contract offer

Published 11:17pm Monday, February 20, 2012

The signs were literally everywhere.

Niles teachers aren’t happy with the last contract offer they received from the board of education in a negotiation process that has been ongoing for more than a year.

Around 100 people showed up to Monday’s Niles Community Schools Board of Education meeting holding signs showing how much they stand to lose in annual compensation if they were to accept the board’s final offer.

One sign said 21.9 percent. Another, 19.5 percent. Another, 28.3 percent.

The other side of the sign read: “We support our community. Does our board?”

The signs were raised at different times throughout the meeting.

“We wanted to remind the board that their last best offer’s overall impact is more than just a 7 percent or 8 percent decrease in pay; it also includes insurance costs,” said Katherine Elsner, teachers’ union president. “That impacts the community as a whole. For every dollar we make, we spend about $1.50 in the community.”

The school board continues to argue that the school district is spending more than it brings in and the district will go into deficit sometime during the 2013-14 school year if changes aren’t made.

“Simply stated, our cost exceeds our revenue and we are entrusted to balance the budget,” board President Jeff Curry said. “We are burning through over $200,000 a month right now, and we cannot afford to do that and educate our kids.”

The board made its last best offer to the teachers in December, calling for an 8 percent cut in teachers’ salary with an additional half-percent cut in pay for each month the contract is not accepted.

The negotiations are in fact finding after state mediation failed last year.

Six people spoke in favor of the teachers during the meeting and one on the side of the board.

Two people accused the district of unnecessarily spending thousands of dollars on attorney’s costs during negotiations instead of using the money for educational purposes.

A local parent, Kelly Florkowski, said some of her trust in the district had been lost and that it might affect whether she continues to send her children to Niles schools.

Niles teacher Pam Anton said the district’s reputation has been damaged. She said some Niles teachers are prepared to leave the district for other jobs.

“If they aren’t already invested in the community, there is nothing to keep them here, nothing to attract new teachers to come here,” Anton said.

Eric Delaporte, an attorney representing the school district, said Niles isn’t the only one facing financial issues.

“Every single school in Michigan is hurting,” he said. “It is not a mismanagement issue; it is a state financing issue.”

Delaporte added that schools would receive less state funding next year based on Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget.

Elsner asked during the meeting that the board return to the negotiating table after the meeting was over.

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  • Ms

    The biggest assets in Niles Community Schools are — our teachers –, why aren’t you treating them that way! I understand you have to make cuts… it seems you are going to the extreme (especially since our enrollment is up this year) — and — the bullying tactic that you keep using is definitely NOT a good way to “keep” the enrollment up or to keep the wonderful staff of teachers that we now possess. If you loose our good teachers,(which will happen because of what you are putting them through), you WILL loose more students!!! – What will you do to our school system then!?!?! The cuts you are proposing are UNJUST! It is amazing to watch the School Board starring at the clock, while these teachers are pouring out their hearts, and they could care less! SUPPORT NILES TEACHERS! We,as parents need to, because it effects us directly! These wonderful teachers are the one teaching our chidren, the school board isn’t!

  • NilesViking

    You are spot on, ms. Yes, Niles has to make cuts. In the past, the philosophy of the board was always “maintain first”. In this long term view, the board sought to take care of our employees, our buildings, and our curriculum, keep what we have, which is good, and our students will prosper. When times were good, they would add the extras, and when times were bad, well, they would cut whatever they had to in order to maintain what they had. Under the guidance of John Huffman and Doug Law, our board operated very successfully for decades, and the proof was in the twenty years of increasing student achievement. Now, our board has abandoned that philosophy. Times are tough, but the philosophy seems to be “spend now, and let’s force the employees to eat the shortfall”. Not surprisingly, Niles’ test scores are falling through the floor (see the Sunday Herald Palladium). The board has spent big money on re-opening Eastside, creating NEW administrative positions, paying for teachers in desk jobs at Westside who are not in the classroom, mortgaging the future by borrowing against the yet to be collected sinking fund millage (a move so dangerous and contrary to former practice that the longest serving board member, Mike Dreher, resigned in opposition to it), adding an additional tech director, adding all day kindergarten, and while not the biggest expense, perhaps the most obscene, hiring a very expensive legal firm to stonewall negotiations with the teachers for you, at a cost of 70 grand already and at least double that before this is all resolved. If you were there last night, I am sure you agree with ms’s description of the board’s behavior. It was so sad to see all those teachers and parents speak from the heart and be discounted as insignificant. One even had her name made fun of by the board. But at least they were there because they cared and were speaking for free. The saddest testimony was that of the board’s hired gun, the attorney. For $300 per hour, you really should get better. First, although he was the last one called on to speak during the “citizen’s comments” section, a move deliberately calculated to refute the teacher / parent testimony. he was NOT required to state his address, his affiliation, or the reason for his comments, like all the others were. But he went on to claim that he was a member of the community because 40 years before he had been born in an undisclosed location “8 miles north of here”, whatever that means. Then he went on to claim that the cuts were because things were so tough in the school business (I agree, but then why is no one else imposing 20% cuts on their teachers, combining the insurance cuts, the salary cuts, and the penalty cuts for not laying down and getting bullied – St. Joe and Lakeshore gave their teachers modest raises). Then, he tried to discount the testimony of the parents and teachers would leave the district, claiming that there would be no where for them to go. What is your point – that the board should take the position that the staff is hostage, so must take whatever they are given? Saying there is no where to go is idiotic. There will ALWAYS be jobs for people with talent elsewhere, and when you mistreat your employees – the ones who other people want will get them and the ones who have no talent and no one wants will stay. Look at Mr. Malley – very talented, an incredible teacher, the reason the new tech implementation was successful, loved by the students, staff, and now gone, due to lack of support and ability to see the effect the board’s tactics on the district. He had no trouble finding a job, and neither will others. The paid testimony was pitiful. The only ones who are going to benefit from the board’s position are their lawyers, who must be licking their chops the longer this goes on. Fire them now, consolidate buildings like you planned, stop adding administrators, stop buying new programs, make a fair settlement with staff instead of the complete gouging you are doing, maintain first, and THEN turn your attention where it should be – the student achievement crisis which is starting to rear its head.

  • nilescitizen

    Are cuts in state funding the only reason why Niles Community Schools costs exceeds revenue? Don’t let the Niles Community Schools Board of Education and th district’s attorney fool you. Yes, money is tight in all districts throughout Michigan due to a cut in funding by the state, but how many districts have opened two new schools within the last year like Niles has (Eastside Connections and Niles Tech) and then proposed teacher salary cuts? Not many, I imagine. We need a school board that has the ability of foresight; something that was lacking in their nearsighted decision to open two new schools (one that had been closed the year before to save the district money, at the minimum $480,000 annually ) during economic times that almost guarantee a cut in state funding for education. Now, the school board expects the teachers, the backbone of the education system, to bear the burden of the obvious mistakes and mismanagement of funds by the school board. It is time that the citizens of Niles realize that the salary cuts are not only happening because of state funding cuts, but also because of terribly thought out decisions the school board has made. It is also time that the citizens of Niles realize the terrible management and leadership abilities of the current school board. Luckily, as citizens of the great state of Michigan we have the ability to petition for a recall of the school board members; it is time for effective leadership and management of the Niles Community School District. RECALL NILES COMMUNITY SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION

  • Buster

    I do support the teachers in this fight! What I don’t get is how many of you people voted for the current governor and his republican minions? I realize this fight is with the school board, but did you vote in your own best intrest? Who is cutting the funding? Voting or not has consequences what did you do?

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