2018-09-06 / Front Page

No pact for G-L teachers

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

A mediator may be called in to help Glen Lake teachers and the Board of Education negotiate a contract — something that has proven difficult through eight months of negotiations.

Members of the Glen Lake Federation of Teachers (GLFT) returned to the classroom this week just as their previous contract expired Friday, Aug. 31.

They are the only teachers in the four county public school districts working without a contract.

And that’s something new for Laker staff who are members of the American Federation of Teachers.

“As far back as current employees can remember, the GLFT and Board of Education have been able to reach an agreement before the start of the school year,” said Jennifer Gretzmacher, GLFT president.

In the last several months, Gretzmacher said the GLFT has received three formal, written proposals from the school district. Two were taken to a vote and were nearly unanimously rejected.

“The main criticisms focused on the board’s desire to take away current benefits and required additional work without equitable compensation,” the union president said.

Talks have been ongoing since January. Yet, the School Board and federated teachers have not come to an agreement.

The district’s offer — a 1 percent raise this year; a .75 percent raise for 2019-20 and one-half percent raise in 2020-2021 — has been rejected.

“Given the district’s financial status and current spending practices, the GLFT does not understand why the Board appears so intent on reducing current benefits, requiring additional work without equitable compensation and rejecting the GLFT’s proposals without serious consideration,” Gretzmacher said.

The district provided a “community update” on contract talks Friday via the school website.

The 12-page document provided by the board offers a comparison of hourly compensation for the teachers under the current contract; what that compensation would be in the district’s proposed contract, and a third category for total contracted compensation per hour, which includes salary retirement and full-family health benefits.

Currently, the minimum hourly rate without benefits is $34.96; the median hourly wage, $51.04 and maximum, $57.22.

The board’s proposed increase of 1 percent in the first year of the contract would bring these hourly wages to $36.61, $53,26 and $57.79, at the three levels respectively.

The board “update” went further to list the hourly rate at minimum, median and maximum, including benefits at $68.79, $91.64 and $97.86 per hour.

Other provisions in the proposed contract have also proven to be stumbling blocks.

These include:

 The addition of once-a-week staff meetings without additional compensation. Currently, just one staff meeting is held per month.

 Elimination of a district-funded “sick bank,” which provides teachers additional paid leave once all paid leave has been exhausted. The teachers would fund the benefit instead, as Superintendent Sander Scott said is customary throughout the region.

 A proposal that if Impact Aid funds fall below $3 million at any point in the contract, the staff would revert to the pay rate from 2017-18.

Glen Lake receives $3.2 million a year in the form of Impact Aid from the federal government to “compensate” for lost property tax revenue resulting from the creation of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

To date, the board’s practice has been to hold Impact Aid for a minimum of one year before it is spent.

A graph listing four area school districts in addition to Glen Lake was included in the GLFT response to the board “community update.”

Glen Lake’s $14 million fund balance is the highest in the group, which includes Traverse City Area Public Schools ($4 million); Kingsley ($3.8 million); Frankfort ($747,328) and Leland ($552,831).

Scott the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“What it doesn’t show is that these districts level two or three times more than us to pay off bond issues,” Scott said. “We use our fund balance for capital improvements, so we don’t have to raise taxes.”

Glen Lake voters approved a bond issue to pay for technology improvements in May 2012. However, the bonds were never sold, Glen Lake business manager LeAnn Eustice said.

Gary Wellnitz, northern Michigan field representative for the American Federation of Teachers, said stalled contract talks have negatively impacted teaching staff.

“Morale at the school is as bad as I’ve ever seen,” he said. “The last couple of years, there have been sour feelings.”

Scott disagreed.

“We have an awesome professional staff. The fact that we have an unsettled contract does have an impact on teachers, but I don’t think it’s evident to the kids or the community.

“We’re willing to keep dialogue going, roll up our sleeves and get the job done.”

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