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January 22, 2014

Troy teacher contract talks drag on

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

About a dozen Troy School District students, many from the International Academy-East, which follows an International Baccalaureate curriculum, made impassioned pleas to the Board of Education at the Jan. 14 meeting, asking the board to reinstate step increases and settle their teachers’ labor contract.

“Melt the pay freeze,” said IA-East student Jeremy Jones.

Connor Healy, another student from the IA-East, said that the students’ comments to the board were “not encouraged or suggested by teachers, but a decision by the student body.”

The labor contract for the Troy Education Association, the group that represents teachers in the Troy School District, expired June 30. The Troy School District and union officials have worked toward an agreement since March and worked with a state-appointed mediator since the end of May.

The sticking point remains that the step pay increases for teachers with less than 10 years of seniority — about 600 of the 769 teachers in the Troy School District. The TEA agreed to concessions in 2011 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.

The TEA has filed for fact-finding, which could take between six months to a year; however, district officials and the TEA are free to negotiate during that process. Both sides agreed on a fact-finder Oct. 31.

The TEA and district officials plan to meet with the fact-finder Feb. 26-28.

Tony Lucchi, president of the TEA, said the board was stonewalling the fact-finding process by asking for seven extensions and with long delays answering requests for information.

Lucchi said these included student counts, district financial information and demographic information on the teachers union over the past few years.

Jasen Witt, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Troy School District, said the district has presented four different options to the TEA. One proposal would provide teachers who are on steps 1-10 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 in bonuses in 2013-14 and $1,100 for 2014-15.

Another option would provide step increases to teachers who receive passing performance evaluations if the Troy School District Fund balance is $21 million or greater after the 2013-14 audit. Another proposal would slate 42 percent of any increase in the state per-pupil allowance to the TEA, after district payroll tax costs for Social Security, Medicare and retirement costs are subtracted. 

All four options are listed on the school district website, www.troy.k12.mi.us. 

Lucchi confirmed the TEA has presented three offers to the district but would not provide specific details on the offers because the TEA is “choosing not to bargain in public.”

“What we’re looking for is not exorbitant,” he said. He said that the foundation of the offers is the reinstatement of the step increases.

“It’s clearly time for the Troy School District to step up,” Lucchi said. “It’s time for them to support us as we supported them back in 2011.”

“We pay our teachers very well; we are very proud of that,” said Nancy Philippart, president of the Troy Board of Education.

She said that every board member “wholeheartedly agreed” with the “passionate, heartfelt stories” about their teachers that the students shared with the board at the meeting.

She noted that two years ago, the state reduced the per-pupil funding for the Troy School District by $470. The current per-pupil funding in the Troy School District is $8,805.

“You can’t spend money you don’t have,” Philippart said. “The board is very frustrated. We will continue to negotiate in good faith.”

Witt said that the TEA bargaining team and district officials had met to negotiate 35 times, as of Jan. 14.  Both groups also planned to meet to negotiate Jan. 17. Witt said the reason for the delays in responding to the union’s request for information was due to the “voluminous nature” of the requests and that the extensions were mutually agreed upon.

Parent Bruce Dow told the board that comparisons should be made with other professions.

“The steps were put there for a purpose,” he said. He also said there was a correlation between the highest-paid teachers and the highest test scores. 

Padma Kuppa, who led the Unity Walk for MLK Day in Troy in 2012, said the lack of a contract settlement was “dividing the community, just plain wrong and made the bond victory hollow.”

“Bring us to a fair and quick end to negotiations,” she said to the board at the Jan. 14 meeting.

“As Nike says, ‘Just do it,’” said parent Emily Aniquist. She said that she and her husband recently moved from Royal Oak to Troy to purchase a bigger house and for the award-winning schools. “At the heart of this community are the teachers,” she said.

“In what career does anyone want to make the same salary as when they start?” said Schroeder Elementary reading specialist Laurie Harnisch.

Terri McCormick, TEA crisis chair, said in an email that in a recent poll, 80 percent of Troy teachers said they were considering leaving the district because of a lack of respect by the board.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.

Ms. Philippart continues to be disingenuous with her comment implying that the TEA is holding out for more money when in fact the issue is not the amount of money on the table, but the way it is divided up. The TEA continues to work for what is best for students, teachers, and our community.