Everything is on the Table

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By: 
Jeffrey P. Crouse, MSBO President, Chief Financial Officer, Charlevoix-Emmet ISD

One aspect of our job as business officials, which has become more difficult in recent times, is sitting at the table during labor negotiations. It can be very challenging, but also rewarding.

Labor unions have a proud history in our nation and in the state of Michigan. We also know that negotiating with many of our local unions can turn into a tactical game of strategy. Most school districts’ strategies are quite simple. We know we have limited funds. We want to provide the best education possible for our students, reward good work, maintain our facilities as well as preserve fiscal health to sustain our schools.

A recent conference - Negotiations: Starting and Ending on the Same Page as a Team - sponsored by MSBO, MASB, and MASA generated a great deal of interest for labor relations data and what other districts are doing in terms of their local bargaining and negotiations. A survey was sent to superintendents and business managers to measure the labor climate throughout the state. More than 330 responded. Following are a few high points from the survey:

  • For the 2012-13 school year, 12 percent plan on negotiating a reduction in their salary schedules and 15 percent plan to have a salary freeze with no step increases.
  • No districts have plans for an increase in salary schedules for 2011-12.
  • Roughly 70 percent expect to have a hard cap in place for the next round of bargaining. (Many labor negotiators are recommending that school districts put a dollar amount in contracts, even though many have the 80/20 cap in their contracts for health insurance.)

Approximately 94 percent of respondents do not expect to have a letter of understanding regarding prohibited topics, opting instead to remove the language from their contracts all together.

Respondents also provided some interesting comments:

  • “Our teachers took a variety of concessions equating to a 9.5% cut.”
  • “We will likely propose the elimination of a “step” scale. All future increases in pay will be due to teachers receiving satisfactory evaluation.”
  • “Already have a salary schedule in place for 2012-13; have written a letter asking the union to open up the contract to re-negotiate.”

The results of this survey are very clear. Many school districts and unions are working together to achieve fair results for employees and to maintain quality programs for students. Everything is on the table. Michigan’s political climate is unpredictable, which makes long-range financial forecasting almost impossible.

Learning what other school districts are doing can be immeasurable in helping you negotiate. This survey provides a snapshot of the many ways school districts are handling labor negotiations. Contact other local districts and find out what challenges they are facing. You aren’t alone and hopefully your school district can, “start and end on the same page as a team.”

To view the survey data presented to conference attendees, click here.