By Crystal Hayduk
Details regarding the contract dispute between the Chelsea School District and the teachers’ collective bargaining unit, the Chelsea Education Association (CEA), became a matter of public record during the school board meeting on Sept. 24.
Superintendent Julie Helber related details of the district’s proposals to the CEA to the board of education during the public portion of the meeting.
The negotiations update was later posted on the district’s website at https://drive.google.com/file/d/12FcKYBkm1ptz3TcBtbLHqBcN8LG881Ng/view. (Related article here: https://chelseaupdate.com/public-turns-out-to-support-teachers-at-chelsea-board-of-education-meeting/.)
The two sides are attempting to negotiate a three-year contract, an uncommon term length due to future uncertainties regarding state funding, enrollment, and retirements, according to Helber.
Teachers continue to be paid based on the previous contract, which expired on June 30, until a new agreement is signed. However, a delayed agreement results in lost wages because retroactive increases were eliminated with the passage of the state’s Public Act 54, effective June 8, 2011.
Financial compensation is a major point of disagreement.
Co-lead negotiator Mike Brown said that teachers have been working an extra three days annually since 2016 without additional pay.
The district’s latest offer (which can be viewed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/12FcKYBkm1ptz3TcBtbLHqBcN8LG881Ng/view) shows pay scales with yearly step increases and lane changes based on education level. Raises would be 1.3% in year one, 1.0% in year two, and 0.5% in year three across the board.
Helber said in a written statement that teacher salary increases range from 3.24% to 5.82% depending on their terminal degree. “When adding the additional 1.3% on scale raise it would make the total package an increase in pay anywhere from 4.54% to 7.12%. It is also important to note that the 12% increase in CSD healthcare contribution adds significant dollars in the teacher’s paycheck (about 1% yearly); this is also outlined in the letter on the website.”
Steps were added at the top of the scale since about half of the district’s teachers are at the top and “…many have been sitting stagnant at the top for quite some time,” said Helber, noting one of the teachers’ priorities during negotiations. “By adding steps, this gives movement at the top, allows the earnings potential for all employees to go up, creates a competitive wage throughout the scale and puts Chelsea as having the highest paid teachers in the county.” Helber added, “…doing this would benefit our teachers with several years of experience by contributing to their retirement calculation.”
A press release from the CEA says that teachers have not received a wage increase that has kept up with the cost of living for the last seven years, nor does the CEA feel that adding steps is a substitute for accounting for inflation.
Chris Orlandi, CEA negotiator, said, “The pay scale must keep up with inflation. The proposed three-year increases of 1.3%, 1.0% and 0.5% will not do that. The value of a teaching career in Chelsea decreases if the scale does not make cost-of-living gains.”
The cost of health care is another area of contention. Public Act 152, enacted in 2011, limits the dollar amount that public employers are permitted to pay towards medical benefits. These “hard caps,” or maximum amounts, are reviewed and set by the state each year. According to the CEA, the district has not raised its contribution since 2011, so the increased health care costs have come from teachers’ pockets.
The district has now proposed to increase its health insurance contribution by 12% in year one of the contract, and to increase it by the same percentage as the state’s hard cap increases in years two and three.
CEA co-lead negotiator, Loren Thorburn said the district’s offer to increase the health insurance contribution “…won’t help teachers make up for all the increases we’ve paid over the years.”
Both sides agree that the district’s fund equity (in layman’s terms, a savings account) should fall no lower than 15% of the total district budget per the board policy. Orlandi said that the CEA is asking the district to use some of the money above the 15% fund equity for wages to help make up for years of concessions. “They have more than a million dollars above that mandatory fund equity and we’re asking for a bit of profit sharing,” he said.
The two sides do not agree on the actual dollar amount available for wage increases. Michelle Cowhy, executive director of finance and administrative services, said that the district’s total fund balance is 18.82%, with an unassigned fund balance of 16.38% for 2016-17. Although the audit for 2017-18 has not been completed yet, she estimates a total fund balance of 20.62% and an unassigned fund balance of 16.69%.
“The amount of unassigned fund balance over 15% is approximately $470,000 after we set aside approximately $462,000 in unassigned fund balance for expenses relating to re-opening Pierce Lake Elementary,” said Cowhy.
Despite discussions between the parties that began last October, official bargaining since May, and two meetings with a mediator, the two sides have reached an impasse.
The CEA filed for fact finding on Sept. 13. From their press release: “Fact finding is a step in the collective bargaining process that requires both sides to pull together evidence related to their positions in the negotiations. Each side will present their evidence in a legal proceeding, but the result will not be binding.”
If either side disagrees with the recommendation of the fact finder, negotiations will continue. At this time, a fact finding hearing has not been scheduled.
The CEA press release can be read below.CEA Press Release 2018-09-25