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Editorial: It’s time to accept a contract

Published 8:15pm Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Niles Community Schools is in a tough spot right now.

The district’s fund equity is being drained at an alarming rate due mainly to massive cuts in state funding, increased retirement costs and increased insurance costs.

If nothing changes, the district will be $1.2 million in debt in two years, according to the district’s financial manager.

That can’t happen if Niles wants to have a great school system.

How can this be avoided?

The Niles teachers’ union needs to accept the last best contract offer made by the board of education.

Negotiations have been ongoing since January 2011.

With each month that goes by, the district loses more than $200,000 in projected savings.

The district can’t afford to lose any more money.

When a district goes into debt, the consequences can be severe. State aid could be cut off. The district could lose its ability to borrow money. A state-appointed financial adviser could be called in to run the district.

All this would hurt a child’s ability to receive a great education in Niles.

School districts are recommended by the state to have fund equity of 15 percent, although some experts believe 10 percent is an acceptable number.

Niles is around 9 percent and falling fast.

The board of education is asking teachers to take roughly an 8 percent cut in pay in addition to changing their insurance policy.

In January, administrators voluntarily took an 8 percent cut in pay and changed insurance.

Secretaries also took a 2.25 percent pay cut and changed insurance.

It’s time for the teachers to do their part in helping the district stay out of debt.

No one is saying teachers don’t deserve to be compensated well for their work. Teachers are the backbone of the school district: the ones directly responsible for educating our community’s children. They are a huge reason why the district is one of the few in the area to see an increase in enrollment.

However, the board’s last best offer to the teachers is just that — it’s the most the board can afford to give without leading the district down a path toward deficit.

You can’t escape the reality that personnel costs account for just over 80 percent of the school’s budget. Teachers account for about 70 percent of that.

Short of eliminating programs, there is nowhere else to cut the budget.

It would be great if Niles teachers could get paid more, but the district’s current financial situation won’t allow for it.

The sad truth is the district is losing money and will continue to do so unless something changes.

Teachers have the power to make that change.

This editorial represents the views of the editorial board.

  • Viking Citizen

    Finally, the truth comes out! EXTRA EXTRA! Niles Daily Star in the back pocket of the Niles School Board. Why don’t you check with the Michigan Department of Education when it comes to the budget of Niles and just how “dire” it seems? Compared to other districts of equal size and with better socio-econmomic bases, Niles is right in the middle in terms of our budget and security. These scare tactics you and the School Board are using are completely unethical and wrong. I am a teacher in Niles. I moved my life here a few years back to teach, coach, and mentor the youth of Niles. I have grown to LOVE this community, but now I’m being forced out. I bought a house here that I am going to have to sell now because of the salary cuts I’ve ALREADY TAKEN. Starting this year, I pay nearly $250 more a month for health insurance. That comes out of my take home pay. I and the other teachers understand this as being the rising cost of health care. We accept this. I pay into the State Employee Retirement System now nearly $100 a month. That’s a cut of $350 from my take home pay from years in the past. Now, you want to take another couple hundred out of my check every month in a salary cut? How am I supposed to pay Uncle Sam back for my Masters Degree loan I took on to become a better trained teacher? I was REQUIRED to earn my masters in order to renew my teachers certificate to keep my job. If these further cuts go through, steps eliminated, I will be forced to sell my home in Niles and move to start somewhere else. I know the School Board doesn’t care about this because they can hire a new teacher for $10 grand less than they’re paying me, but what no one is considering is, my replacement will be not from the top of the graduating class of new teachers… they are going to school districts who care and pay their teachers accordingly. I will be replaced by the bottom end. Niles citizens… ask your kids about their teachers. They love them! Niles has some of the finest educators around! Do you want us replaced with the bottom end of new teachers who will teach here for a year before moving on to a new district that pays better? I have taught in other school districts, and I will go toe-to-toe with anyone when they want to banter about the quality of education in Niles. The teachers solidify that here by working and coaching 12 hour days. Yes, the administrators took a pay cut, but what you have failed to inform the public about the numerous times you keep pointing this out, Niles Daily Star, is that all of the administrators got BONUSES to compensate for the pay cut. Niles Daily Star, if you get your wish, and this contract goes through, Niles teachers will be leaving in a mass exodus to other schools and professions. The Niles teachers shop at Shelton’s Foods, we buy cars at Tylers Automotive, we shop downtown, and volunteer endless hours for the betterment of this community. Oh, and we grade your children’s work for hours every night and weekend so the children of Niles can grow up to be productive citizens someday as well.

  • Buster

    Great comments Viking Citizen! The Star has a bias against working class people in alot of their articles. If people would cancel their subscriptions, that might get their attention. It makes you wonder how if the school system is broke, they can hire lawyers for time, milage, and hotel. Yours is not the only school system that claims poverty, but can spend money on lawyers to get their way. All people in this community needs to get involved and educate themselves and VOTE!

  • NilesViking

    I am also disturbed about the unfair / unbalanced reporting and latest editorial that have come from the Niles Daily Star presenting distorted and incorrect information that emanates from the board and superintendent as “fact” when it is really just their posturing to gain an upper hand in negotiations. The editorial above is loaded with statements of “fact” to support the editor’s opinion that are either way out of context or just not true. This has been prevalent throughout this negotiations saga.
    Some items most editors would think are newsworthy, but I do not recall reading anywhere in the Star about the board adding a new administrative position and then hiring the board president’s wife, or adding 2 other administrative positions, or taking teachers out of the classroom and putting them in desk jobs at westside to do administrative work, or hiring an expensive law firm to negotiate for them at the cost to date of close to one hundred thousand already with no end in sight, or the true cost of re-opening Eastside (hundreds of thousands of dollars per year), or adding all day kindergarten before it was required, or new tech, or any of the other long list of new spending this board has agreed to in the last two years. I remember two years ago the Star proudly reporting that Niles was the only school district in our area to exceed the state average in every single MEAP test (I think it was like 17 tests), but did not see ANY insight or analysis this year, when Niles’ MEAP scores are dropping precipitously (relative to the state average – NOT because they changed the grading scale)and now have dropped so far in just two years that we made the state average in less than half the tests. I have been at almost every recent board meeting, and although NO RECORD has been reported in the daily Star, I have witnessed the boorish behavior of individual board members, referring to the teacher’s negotiating position as “idiotic”, hiring their own attorney to come and pretend he was a citizen and rebutt the comments of teachers, staff and community members, yawning, having sidebar conversations or obviously looking at their watches twenty times while a citizen is pouring out her heart, or making fun of the name of a humble but sincere citizen trying to speak to them. Most recently, I think it would have interested your readers to know that James Hawkins, persuaded to come speak to the board as an “expert” on state politics and school finance, is actually the former boss of Superintendent Weigel who hired him in Ypsilanti – but you forgot to mention this.
    Lets look at some “facts” presented as a basis for your position in the editorial:
    “If nothing changes, the district will be in debt in two years”. That may be true, but things always change. Some of the changes have happened already, like enrollment being higher than projected, state funding increased through the incentive programs, and spending being lower than budget, but NONE of these new revenue sources have been incorporated into the board’s position. Things always change. Every budget the Niles’ schools have adopted always showed someday going into deficit if nothing changes, but things ALWAYS change.
    “this can’t happen if Niles wants to have a great school system” – what really can’t happen is the board spending all their time discrediting teachers. What they should be doing, right now, as we speak, is asking very pointed questions about what has gone haywire in the last two years and resulted in the alarming drop in our MEAP scores? Maybe all this new spending is not the right thing to do?
    “The board of education is asking teachers to take roughly an 8 percent pay cut and changed insurance” Your reporting is very rough, indeed. At the end of the month, it will actually be a 9% cut, with the built in strong arm scare tactic penalty clause that the board’s contract offer contains. The major cut, not mentioned, is in the insurance. The state law calls for employees to pay 20% of their premiums, with the new contract. The board’s offer is to go from the current 5% to around 40% teacher contribution for a full family plan. The combination of the salary cut and lost compensation for insurance runs anywhere from a total net loss per enmployee of 19% to as high as 28%, depending on the individual’s salary level and insurance plan. The board hates our signs showing these numbers, but cannot say they are wrong. Don’t you think the Star readers would be interested in this?
    “with each month, the district loses 200,000 in projected savings” This is a completely arbitrary number, based on the terms of an absurd and unacceptable offer. Why not just say “we could save 2 million per month if the teachers would just work for free”. Same statement – difference in degree of cut.
    The board’s last best offer is just that – the most they can afford” Yes that is true, since they have spent so much money on new programs, more administrators, borrowing against the future, more buildings, and most of all, their attorneys.
    “short of eliminating programs, there is nowhere else to cut the budget” Patently not true. See suggestions above.

  • thinking man

    how dare the writers of the niles daily star support the school board ran by a man sent to cut wages and dumb our great city down.In a time where knowledge is everything in making more for ones family the school board is trying to sell average as being just fine for the teachers of our kids. I myself feel that the teachers should have a vote to out the weigler”whatever his name is” out. Maybe with him and the lawyers that he is paying 100′s a hour to niles could save a buck! I salute the teachers of niles and beg them not to give in to this mad man who is trying to make a name for himself. Niles has always been my home except for my service to my country in the marines but i came home for the good stuff and the teachers are it, i would love to send my childern to niles schools but if just o.k is what niles wants i will have to move on for that is not the attitude we should teach. better pay equals better teachers with makes better future adults. save our town and out the ones who is trying to slow us down.

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