3rd party negotiating teachers’ contracts

Published 11:08 pm Monday, January 24, 2011

Though it was a short meeting of the Niles Community Schools Board of Education Monday night, school officials did not escape a reckoning with what Niles District Education Association president Andy Roberts called “the white elephant in the room.”

During the open comments portion of the meeting, Roberts presented members of the board with a special gift to mark School Board Recognition Month, then told the board, “the association and I were disappointed the board chose to hire an outside negotiator” for teacher negotiations that officially begin today.

“We were hoping to stay away from negotiations in an adversarial mode,” Roberts said.

A motion was made for the board to go into closed session following adjournment of the meeting to discuss negotiations further.

Board president Dana Daniels said members would learn more about what might lay ahead in regard to negotiations with the teachers union following that closed session.

Hiring a third party negotiator, Daniels said, is “normal course of action. And that’s typical that the union would not approve of that.”

Increasing cutbacks in state funding and strains on an already lean budget will put teachers and district officials in difficult positions once again.

Officials have an estimated 80 percent of costs in personnel, according to Daniels. As for the union, it believes severe concessions have already been made, Roberts said.

The issues at hand are “really not that much different than the white elephant in the room,” Roberts said. “Last year we took a freeze.”

Teachers are paying more in insurance as well, he added.

“We took concessions to try and do our fair share,” Roberts said.

The union’s hope was to sit down for “a collaborative approach” to negotiations with members of the school board.

“Instead, we have a third party who doesn’t know the local issues (and) is not from here locally ,” he said.

And, Roberts said, it means the union now feels the need to bring its guard up.

Daniels said in regard to state aid alone the amount received per student within the district has sunk from $7,300 just a couple of years ago to an estimated $6,900 now.

The issue of a third party negotiator, he said, does not have to have a negative impact.

“Contract negotiations do not have to be contentious because we bring in an outside negotiator,” he said, just prior to going into closed session.

The NDEA does receive support from members of the Michigan Education Association, Roberts said.