>By RJ Walters / For the Jackson Citizen Patriot
There is a growing disconnect in contract talks between Albion Public Schools and teachers as the deadline for the high school’s redesign plan nears.
Tara Wilbur, Michigan Education Association UniServ director, said the tone of the negotiations is “incredibly troubling” and the district attorney requested a mediator after just three sessions instead of trying to resolve issues at the bargaining table.
Wilbur said one issue is the district attorney is trying to tie a contract addendum — that has to be made for high school teachers because the school was named a Persistently Low Achieving School — to deep wage and insurance concessions for the entire district.
Albion High School is one of 92 schools statewide that has to submit a redesign to the state by Nov. 16 or face the possibility of being taken over by the state. By trying to make redesign plan concessions applicable to the entire district, the attorney is violating Michigan Department of Education policy, Wilbur said.
“The only two components of the law that have some flexibility are seniority and working conditions, but how that’s defined is going to be worked out at a local level by the union contract negotiator and the district and district attorney,” MDE spokeswoman Jan Ellis said.
Superintendent Frederick Clarke said he could not comment on the specifics of the negotiations “away from the table,” but he believes the two sides are making progress.
“I know how important that is for our teachers; they’re so important to our students, and we want (the teachers) to be happy and comfortable and rewarded as much as possible within our budgetary restrictions we currently have,” he said.
Several people spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting about district administrators signing contracts long before the teachers’ contracts were up for debate.
Eric Petro said he sees teachers facing more challenges and obstacles than ever before, yet they are the ones who are being asked to make all the concessions.
“So I see the teachers doing the same amount of work, if not more, with less support, no librarian … yet I see administration administrating a district that’s shrinking with possibly the same amount of pay,” he said. “So I guess what I’d say if we’re asking people to give, it’s easy to say, ‘Off with their heads,’ but let’s make sure that everybody’s giving a little above the neck.”
Wilbur said Albion teachers pay twice as much as administrators for prescriptions and office visits, and Clarke said that is something that will be addressed.
“We’re already looking into leveling and making sure our insurance is the same, as the teachers,” Clarke said. “I always thought it was exactly the same so that’s something we’re looking to change this year.”