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Hope Ahead for Traverse City Area Public Schools, Teachers Impasse?

Hope Ahead for TCAPS, Teachers Impasse?

April 21, 2014
Hope Ahead for TCAPS, Teachers Impasse?

Coming up on a year of negotiating, the Board of the Traverse City Area Public Schools and its teachers union have put their disagreements over a new contract in the hands of a third party – as tensions over the lack of progress are rising.

While TCAPS Board President Kelly Hall tells The Ticker the board continues to be committed to reaching a contract solution with the district’s teachers, the sentiment voiced by the Traverse City Education Association (TCEA) is starkly different.

“Teacher morale is at an all-time low,” says Jeff Leonhardt, TCEA president. He adds that Superintendent Steve Cousins “has never sat down at the bargaining table” and board members “don’t weigh in at all.” He says the TCEA bargains with Chris Davis, executive director of human resources & labor relations for TCAPS.

Both parties filed briefs with a state appointed fact-finder last week – a move both sides agreed to in February after contract negotiations came to an impasse following an exchange of the latest proposals.

The fact-finding process is underway as negotiations for a new contract enter their second year. TCAPS teachers have been working under a contract that expired in August 2013. The fact-finder will look at all the evidence provided by both sides and issue a report (due sometime between May 19 and June 19).

What could it reveal? That the TCAPS board position is correct or that the teacher’s union position is correct – or, it could find unreasonable stances on either side. [Important to note: Whatever the conclusion of the report, it is non-binding.]

“Although fact-finding is occurring, the TCAPS board remains committed to settling on a contract which is fair and equitable for all parties, teachers as well as taxpayers,” says Hall. “A contract which provides fair compensation but which also reflects the financial reality and constraints of the district.”

According to Hall, the “points of disagreement” relate to the following four issues: salary increase, health insurance costs sharing, grievance procedure and powers of the arbitrator.

Leonhardt says teachers have experienced 12 to 15 percent salary reductions since 2009. “It is unsustainable,” he says, adding that some teachers have been forced to get second jobs. “We are consistently at the bottom of the comparator districts in compensation.”

The statewide average for teacher costs in a school’s budget is 60 percent. According to Leonhardt, the TCAPS average for the last five years has been 58 percent. “All we want to do is maintain that 58 percent of the pie,” says Leonhardt. “If we accept their offer of zero percent, we will be in the 55 percent range.”

This is the “first time in a long time” the TCAPS district has gone to a fact-finding phase over contract negotiations, says Hall, but it is a position more and more districts across Michigan are finding themselves in, including the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District last fall.

“Given the budget constraints forced on districts by the state of Michigan, coupled with the [local teacher] union’s desire to get more pay … it’s not wholly surprising to go to a fact-finding stage. There is a process and we’re following it.”


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