Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 26, 2010

TCAPS contract proposals made public

District will post offers in middle of negotiations

BY LINDSAY VANHULLE
lvanhulle@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — Contract proposals from Traverse City public school administrators and union employees, long kept under wraps while bargaining, are about to be revealed.

Administrators plan to post all proposals exchanged in negotiation sessions to the district's website within 48 hours of being offered.

Available now is an initial draft, dated Nov. 17, from the Traverse City Transportation Association, that represents bus drivers and aides. A district counteroffer is expected shortly after a session Tuesday.

Administrators said the decision is intended to increase visibility, but the district's Michigan Education Association-affiliated groups believe that effect will be diluted, since viewers won't be privy to the discussion that crafted the words.

Christine Davis, TCAPS' executive director of human resources, said the action was considered in closed sessions with school board members.

"We feel it follows right in the lines of being transparent in the community," she said. "This isn't anything hostile."

Transportation employees have worked under a four-year deal that expired in 2008. Their first proposal covers three years — two of them retroactively — and calls for 2 percent wage increases each year.

They also want changes to retirement and severance guidelines and the way they are compensated for canceled school days.

Union leaders were told in advance that their proposals would be published. They don't love the idea, but at least one said she won't fight it.

"We have nothing to hide," said Mary McGee-Cullen, president of the Traverse City Education Association, which represents teachers, social workers, counselors and nurses. "Our contracts are already posted online."

If openness is the goal, negotiations could be held in public to give the document context, said Ron Parkinson, an MEA UniServ director. But he would be reluctant to have them recorded.

Parkinson said taking time to write rebuttals, knowing they will be public, could slow bargaining. And participants could be pressured to explain how or why they negotiated a certain item.

"What we have, it feels like, is traditional bargaining with additional speed bumps," he said.

Superintendent Steve Cousins acknowledged the plan doesn't offer true transparency, saying in that case open sessions and videotapes also would be included.

But he called it "the next logical step" in releasing details about how school districts spend public money, following recent changes to financial reporting requirements.

District websites now must link to annual budgets, current contracts and information on employee compensation and expenses. Bargaining drafts aren't mandated.

"Putting the proposals on the website is a good anchor point on conversations within the community," Cousins said. "It holds us accountable for those conversations."