Niles school board takes woes with teachers’ contract to public

Published 11:09 pm Thursday, August 19, 2004

By By Spiros Gallos / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Niles Community Schools and the Niles District Education Association will soon get some help in resolving the teachers' contract dispute.
The Niles Community Schools Board of Education has filed a petition with the Michigan Employment Relations Council to enter a fact-finding process.
In fact finding, an independent third party will gather evidence and statements from both sides and then give a recommendation which is non-binding.
Niles teachers have been without a contract for 13 months now.
The school board will meet with the teacher's association on Tuesday to negotiate the contract.
Niles Community Schools Superintendent Doug Law made it clear that the contract dispute is strictly financial.
The teacher's association had no plans to publicly release its formal proposal as the board has, according to Roberts.
However, the association's stance is part of the petition for fact finding filed by the school board.
The two sides are negotiating a contract that goes back to the 2003-04 school year.
In the board's petition for fact finding, proposals from both sides are laid out as such:
Under the board's proposal, the 2003-04 salary schedule would remain the same as the 2002-03 schedule with all experience step increments and column changes, based on educational attainment, being paid in 2003-04.
Under the association's proposal, teachers would receive a wage increase of between 2.5 and 7.1 percent for the 2003-04 school year. Additionally, the board would be responsible for all experience step increments and column changes.
The board's proposal for the 2004-05 year proposes the salary schedule remain the same as the 2002-03 schedule, with the major change erasing the 2-tier salary schedule.
The 2-tier salary schedule was implemented by the district in 1998 to attract new teachers. Under the system, incoming teachers would increase two steps in the schedule automatically when hired.
For example, a new teacher with five years of past teaching experience would earn the same salary as a teacher already in the district with seven years' experience.
The change would affect 34 teachers identified in binding arbitration between the board and association.
Under the board's proposal, those teachers would increase one step in 2004-05, and another step in 2005-06, effectively erasing the difference in salary schedules caused by the 2-tier system.
Another change to salaries under the board's proposal would give teachers a 0.25 percent increase in salary for every 10th student over the expected enrollment of 3,989. This change is the same as the raise secretaries will receive under the contract which was ratified Monday.
The teacher's association proposal proposes an additional 2.5 percent increase in salaries for the 2004-05 school year.
The board proposes that effective Sept. 1, it will pay $1,023 per month toward the premium for the Michigan Education Special Services Association health insurance plan for teachers.
The association proposes no change, obligating the board to pay all insurance premium increases which became effective July 1.
Law explained that Niles schools are run on a very tight budget and that the board's current contract proposal would cost the district an additional $745,000, which without further budget cuts would come out of the fund balance, a rainy day fund of sorts.
According to the Michigan Department of Education, the Niles district fund balance for 2002-03 was approximately $2.9 million, just under 10 percent of the district's operating expenses of about $30 million. The 2003-04 information is unavailable pending audits.
Law has cut about $1.5 million from the budget over the past two years while state funding was reduced from $74 per student in 2002-03, to $68 per student in 2003-04.
Roberts didn't seem pleased that the school board has released to the public the status of its negotiations with teachers.
"They don't seem serious about settling this anytme soon," Roberts said.