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Negaunee teachers rally for contract ~ Part 2

March 22, 2011
By JOHANNA BOYLE Journal Ishpeming Bureau

NEGAUNEE - Following the Negaunee Public Schools Board of Education decision in February to reject a tentative two-year agreement between the board and the teachers of the Negaunee Education Association, NEA members staged a rally outside Monday night's board meeting. The board took no action regarding the agreement.

"The teachers are very disappointed in the board's decision not to reconsider the tentative agreement," said NEA President RaeAnn Loy following the meeting.

Superintendent Jim Derocher said while he understood the teachers are upset over not having a new contract - they have been working under the terms of an agreement that expired in September - the board is worried about cuts to school funding.

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"The board is looking at what happens if we have to make $1.5 million in cuts," Derocher said.

Although teachers argued the tentative agreement, which has been approved by the union, would have saved the district money with health insurance concessions and a freeze of teachers' base pay in the first year and a one percent increase to teachers' base pay in the second, school officials seemed unwilling to move forward on the contract until more is known about the state budget.

"They're looking for more information from the state," Derocher said of the board.

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Prior to the meeting, NEA members lined the driveway up to the Negaunee High School, holding signs with slogans such as "Negaunee is not broke" and "We are affordable."

"We are trying to send a message to the board that the tentative agreement they agreed to is affordable," Loy said prior to the meeting. "We would hope the board would reconsider their decision."

Now both the board and the NEA are waiting, the board for a meeting with a full panel of board members with President David Rice absent from Monday's meeting and Greg Toutant, the recent replacement for former board member Dan Hintsala, unofficially sitting through his first meeting. Toutant was appointed the position Monday, but must first resign his current position on the board of North Star Academy in Marquette.

The union is also waiting to see the outcome of the unfair labor practices charge it filed following the February meeting.

The meeting Monday was attended by a large number of NEA members, most wearing blue "Building a Bridge to the Future" union shirts. All the public comment offered to the board was in favor of approving the agreement.

"We're here for our kids, we're here for your kids, we're here for the community's kids," said Negaunee Middle School teacher Abby Standerford. "We feel used and degraded."

"The teachers of the Negaunee Public Schools are hard working, caring, sincere people who are the basic foundations of this outstanding district. That's why you see these folks here tonight," said middle school teacher and NEA professional negotiating chair Mark Churchill.

Churchill argued that the board's decision to not accept the contract was based on a reaction to the governor's proposed funding cuts, without recognizing savings that would come from other parts of the proposal that include teachers paying 20 percent of their healthcare costs and cuts to their wages, "saving money on the backs of the teachers."

Derocher said if the governor's proposals go through, the district will see a reduction in revenues of over $1 million for the 2011-2012 school year and a $464,899 increase to district expenses, including teachers step increases and insurance costs, amounting to a projected almost $1.5 million deficit. For the 2012-2013 school year, the deficit is again projected to be around a million dollars.

"We are not ready at this point in time to give you any recommendations. We are waiting to see what will happen in Lansing between now and May 31," he told the board.

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is jboyle@miningjournal. net.



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