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Public turns out to support teachers at Chelsea Board of Education meeting

Photo by Crystal Hayduk. Thea Higgins is a junior at Chelsea High School, recently chosen to serve as student liaison to the Board of Education.

By Crystal Hayduk

The board room at the Washington Street Education Center was filled to overflowing as a standing room only crowd attended the meeting on Sept. 24 in support of a quick resolution to the contract dispute between the Chelsea School District and the teachers’ collective bargaining unit, Chelsea Education Association (CEA).

The most recent contract negotiations began last October; the previous contract expired on June 30, 2018.

Prior to the start of the meeting, Anne Mann, board president, reviewed the rules for public input, which includes registering a request to speak by completing a form and giving it to the board secretary. Statements are limited to three minutes.

The complete policy on public participation at board meetings can be found on the district website under Board Policy 0167.3 (

Eight individuals addressed the board, praising the work the teachers do and urging the speedy resolution of the contract dispute. Each request was met with cheering and clapping from the audience, which included some CEA members, clad in matching yellow shirts.

Jason Eyster, a school board candidate on the November ballot, said that “a rapid determination of a contract” would serve to enhance meeting the district’s goals of providing a positive, safe, and healthy school environment; and strengthening organizational effectiveness. He said that it is the responsibility of adults to come to a harmonious agreement as an example to the district’s children.

Zoe Proegler said that a fair contract that provides basic pay increases that keep pace with the cost of living and adequate health insurance is a sign of respect for the people who do the work. Referring to the recent decision to make Chelsea a School of Choice in order to grow the community, she said, “Growth won’t happen if you can’t maintain excellent teachers.”  

Rick Catherman addressed the board in his role as president of the CEA. He reviewed sacrifices made by members of the CEA (teachers, counselors, social workers, and psychologists), including “foregoing salary increases, working three additional days for no additional pay each of the past two years, and paying the highest amount towards our health insurance than most school districts in Washtenaw County.”

Catherman requested that a board member attend the next bargaining session and be directly involved with the negotiation process. “I believe that with one of you taking part in discussions that the issues may be resolved respectfully and with a greater sense of urgency.”

Stating his belief that the board desires an outcome that best benefits students and treating employees respectfully, Catherman said he finds it difficult to believe that the board is not willing to use some of the $5 million fund equity to invest in pay increases that keep up with inflation.

Superintendent Julie Helber reviewed the contract proposal with the board during the meeting. “Normally, I wouldn’t share the process of bargaining in an open session, but we want to be as transparent as possible with our stakeholders and make sure we’re providing you with factual information,” she said.

She expressed appreciation for the teachers and said that a goal of the contract is to honor them for their work.

Helber emphasized that even though there is not a new contract, teachers are still being paid based on the previous contract. However, teachers who would be eligible for lane changes or step increases aren’t receiving them until a new agreement is signed.

Helber reviewed the district’s total cost for their three-year proposal: $707,000 in year one, $678,000 in year two, and $572,000 in year three. “That’s a lot of district money and taxpayer money,” she said. She also said that a three-year contract is uncommon because of future uncertainties regarding state funding, enrollment, and retirements.

The district met the CEA request to increase their contribution towards health care costs by 12%.

Board policy requires a minimum of 15% balance in the fund equity. Helber said that the district offer is using half of the amount that exceeds 15% toward the compensation package, but that the other half is being allocated towards eventually reopening Pierce Lake Elementary School.

The district’s attorney advised the board to file for fact-finding. (The CEA had previously filed for fact-finding.) The board approved this by a vote of four to one. Greg Rhodes and Anne Mann abstained from voting due to conflicts of interest; Tammy Lehman cast the nay vote.

Helber also requested the board’s guidance regarding posting the compensation proposal on the district’s website. Board member Shawn Quilter said that the information is now public record since it was shared during a public meeting.

The negotiation update is linked on the district’s homepage at or can be viewed here:

Catherman released this statement following the meeting: “The Chelsea Education Association respects the collective bargaining process, and I am surprised that our superintendent has made the decision to bargain in public. Her decision seems disrespectful not only to the process, but to Chelsea teachers overall.”                        

In other board news:

Helber said that the district’s attorneys are “still vetting the contract” between Midwest Energy & Communications and the school district. “They’re close, but not quite there,” she said.

“We anticipate this to be an action item at our meeting on Oct. 8.” (See related story here:  

Assistant High School Principal Luman Strong introduced Thea Higgins to the board. Higgins, a junior who participates in cross country, band, Link Crew, and student council, will serve as student liaison. Strong said Higgins, one of seven juniors who was interviewed for the position, was chosen for her enthusiasm, kindness, and leadership skills.

The school board commended Jacqueline Taylor for winning Chelsea High School’s first Excellence Award. Both boys and girls are eligible for the award, which is based on scholarship, leadership, and elements of character; it replaces the title of Homecoming Queen. 

The school board approved a donation of $2,000 from the Kiwanis Club of Chelsea to support families who need financial assistance to access early childhood programs.

Board member Kristin van Reesema spotlighted Athletic Director Brad Bush’s board report statistic that 44% of the high school student body participates in sports. She said the board appreciates the district’s good coaches.

Upcoming dates:

Student Count Day is Oct. 3.

The next school board meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 8 at North Creek Elementary School, 699 McKinley St.  

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