Niles teacher talks contentiousPublished 10:48am Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Contract negotiations between Niles teachers and the Niles Community Schools district are not going as well as both sides had hoped.
Mediation did not bring about a resolution, so the negotiations are going into fact finding.
The school board passed a resolution Jan. 9 to proceed with fact finding, a move Supt. Richard Weigel calls the next step in the negotiation process. In fact finding, both sides present their evidence to an impartial fact finder appointed by the state. Any decisions the fact finder makes are non-binding. The process can take two to three months, adding more time to a negotiation that has been ongoing since January 2011.
“We are hopeful that the fact finder will help us find a resolution,” Weigel said.
In addition to passing a resolution to go to fact finding, the board also filed an unfair labor practice against the teachers’ association and voted to stop deductions of state and local dues from members’ paychecks on Jan. 9.
Teachers’ union President Katherine Elsner called in an email the board’s actions a typical strategy to force the union to settle.
“The NDEA (teachers’ union) has bargained in good faith and knows that the board will return to the bargaining table to settle this contract in a fair and equitable manner because that is what is best for the students,” Elsner said.
Weigel said what is best for the community’s children is to have a balanced budget and an equitable pay for all teachers without the district going into deficit.
The teachers’ union also filed an unfair labor practice against the school district in October, alleging the board bargained in bad faith and that the insurance deductions are excessive according to Public Act 54. The act, signed in June 2011, allows employers to deduct the total increase in cost of insurance premiums from employee wages when a contract expires and until a new contract is settled. The teachers’ union contract expired June 30. Elsner said the board has collected more than $8,700 too much per month from members totaling more than $50,000 since July 1. She said this occurred as the school board’s erroneous calculations resulted in excessive deductions.
“We felt we had no choice but to file the charges,” Elsner said.
Weigel said the district followed the same procedures and insurance calculations done since 2003 and had been agreed upon in previous contracts by the teachers’ union and the board.
“Based on these agreements with the NDEA and guidance from legal council, the board believes they are following the law for PA54,” Weigel said.
The school board’s unfair labor practice against the teachers’ union alleges the union engaged in unfair labor practices relating to the union’s insistence on demanding the inclusion of prohibited subjects of bargaining.
Both sides have met 22 times in trying to come to agreement on a new contract, including three sessions with a state-appointed mediator.
Weigel said the board presented its final and best offer to the teachers’ union on Dec. 16, but the union’s negotiator did not respond.
“It is the contention of the board that the NDEA has not bargained in good faith,” Weigel said.
Elsner said the board is asking Niles teachers to take an 8 percent cut in salary, adding the district began the school year with about $4 million in surplus tax-payer money.
Weigel contends there is no surplus in the district’s budget. He said without concessions from the teachers’ union, the district is projected to have a 4 percent fund balance next year and a negative fund balance the following year. The Michigan School Business Officials, Weigel said, recommends that a district should maintain a 10 to 15 percent fund balance.
“The final offer from the board will keep the district out of deficit for the next three years,” Weigel said.
Elsner said the teachers’ union recently added charges to its unfair labor practice against the school district.
“It seems irresponsible for the NDEA to put information in the press about additional charges when those charges have not been given to the Niles Board of Education,” Weigel said.