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Troy School District teachers start school year sans contract

September 10, 2013

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Members of the Troy Education Association walk at Athens High School before the Board of Education meeting Sept. 3.

School started in the Troy School District Sept. 3, but the teachers labor contract expired June 30, and a new one has not been ratified.

The sticking point remains the step increases for teachers with few than than 10 years seniority, which Troy Education Association President Tony Lucchi said affects about 600 of the 770 teachers in the district.

In 2011, the TEA agreed to concessions that included an 11 percent contribution for health care and the freeze on step increase raises, which saved the district more than $10 million over two years.

Troy School District teachers packed the auditorium at Athens High School for the Sept. 3 Board of Education meeting and picketed outside before the meeting started.  

Eleven people spoke about the labor agreement during the public participation portion of the meeting.

Jasen Witt, assistant superintendent of human resources for the district, explained that one of the proposals on the table would provide teachers who are on steps 1 though 10 with a total of $7,300 in new bonuses over two years: $4,500 the first year and $2,800 the second year. Also, all teachers, including those not on the steps, would receive $1,000 bonuses in 2013-14 and $1,100 for 2014-15.

Witt said that in deference to the mediation process, he was reluctant to share specifics of the district’s alternative proposal.

“However, in general, this proposal would compensate teachers for additional teacher work time for professional development that the district is hoping to build into the school year calendar,” Witt said in an email. “The alternative proposal also would provide teachers on steps 1-10 with an off-schedule payment equivalent to a pro-rated step increase for 2013-2014 and includes an appropriate link, which could result in the same amount remaining on-schedule in 2014-2015 dependent on certain qualifying conditions.”

Those would be the overall financial health of the district’s budget and a teacher’s overall effectiveness as measured by the teacher evaluation process that teachers and administrators have jointly developed, Witt said. 

“Under this proposal, all other TSD teachers, including the new hires for 2013-2014, would be provided with a $1,000 off-schedule payment for 2013-2014. Finally, this alternative proposal would include an economic re-opener for the 2014-2015 school year,” he added. 

Witt said the budget forecast adopted by the board includes up to $500,000 annually designated for eligible teachers to receive as additional compensation under the district’s performance-based compensation model, whereby a teacher could receive up to $2,500 in additional compensation. 

Witt noted that the term “legacy costs,” which district officials have stated they wanted to avoid, refers to the compounding expense for the district’s budget that would result from the step advancement on the teacher salary schedule and/or any on-schedule percentage increase to teachers’ salary schedules.

Lucchi said both options are unacceptable.

“There is $22 million in fund equity. It’s insulting,” he said.

“The Troy Board of Education remains committed to negotiating a fair and fiscally responsible contract with the union. We are proud of our teaching staff and, this year, are welcoming more than 60 new teachers, many of them seasoned educators from our districts,” said Kerry Birmingham, director of community and media relations for the Troy School District.

“We understand that the negotiating process can be challenging, but we are confident that the district and the union will be able to reach an agreement,” Birmingham said.

“We’ve agreed on virtually nothing,” Lucchi said.

He said that union officials believe the district has misled the union about financials, and the union has instituted a fact finder through the Michigan Employment Commission to hear facts between teachers and the board. These findings are not binding by either party.

He noted that the Troy School District is in better financial shape than neighboring districts, which have offered teachers step increases.

“We’re going to lose young people,” he said. “They’re going to leave Troy. We lost 11 teachers last year — a handful went to other districts because of the step increases.”

Lucchi added that in addition to agreeing to the freezes in step increases in the previous teachers contract, Troy teachers now pay more than 15 percent of insurance costs and contribute up to 10 percent of their pay to fund retirement health care and pensions. He pointed out that Birmingham teachers’ recently ratified contract includes step advancements and a raise. Birmingham Public Schools officials confirmed that teachers will receive step increases, a half-step increase for each year of the two-year contract, and that the fund equity in that district is $12.3 million, and the general fund budget is $108 million.

Teachers weigh in

“We are not our fund equity balance; we are Troy,” said Evan Rokicki, teacher at the International Academy, East.

“I can never get a raise in my salary,” said Joslyn John, Spanish teacher at Troy High School.

“We need to show each other respect,” said Nancy Strachan, vice president of the Michigan Education Association. “You won’t keep staff in Michigan if they are not given a fair and equitable salary.”

Sidney Kardon, the president of the Royal Oak Educational Association, said he sees an anti-union notion at play in Troy.

“We have step increases in Royal Oak,” he said.  

Witt told the board that the notion of step increases “continues to be a difference.”

He said the district reached agreements with the Troy Educational Support Personnel Association and the Troy Educational Secretarial Association labor groups earlier this summer, and that those unions were willing to agree to one-time compensation increases that did not compound or carry over expenses within the district’s budget.

The groups represent the para-educators for special education and English language learners, and skilled trades and the secretaries. Both groups agreed to 4 percent bonuses each year and one-time pay raises ranging from 18 cents to 97 cents an hour for the TESPA members with low seniority, and one-time pay raises ranging from 40 cents to 75 cents an hour for all TESA members.

“I remain convinced, despite our differences, that we will be able to reach a fair and equitable contract,” said Troy Board of Education President Nancy Philippart.

Mark Rajter, assistant superintendent for business services, told the board that the top-end salaries for teachers in the Royal Oak School District are lower than they are in Troy.

Salaries for each position in the Troy School District are posted on the district’s website,

In June, the Troy School District Board of Education approved a $132 million budget, based on a student count of 12,440 and a fund balance of $22 million. Rajter said the cost for teachers to progress one step would be approximately $2.1 million for the fiscal year 2013-14.

“We are trying very hard to do right by our employees with the funds available,” said Trustee Karl Schmidt. “Fund equity is about operating capital. The goal is to achieve a healthy fund balance.”

He said that the district needs to have 14 to 16 percent of its general fund budget in fund equity. “There is no union-busting effort. The struggle is how to remain equitable and still be as fair as possible to people in the district. We’re trying to figure out how to make it work … but we are not at a standstill.”

Negotiations with the mediator, the TEA and district officials are scheduled for Sept. 12 and 13.  

Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki contributed to this report.

About the author

Staff Writer Terry Oparka covers Troy and the Troy School District for the Troy Times. Oparka has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2000 and attended Oakland University and Macomb Community College. Oparka has won an award from the Michigan Press Association and three awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, Detroit Chapter.

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