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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