Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 16, 2009

TCAPS releases contract details, riles union

Unfair labor practice violation filed Friday

BY LINDSAY VANHULLE

TRAVERSE CITY -- Administrators in Traverse City's public schools said they publicly released details of bargaining sessions with teachers to clear up rumors about lagging contract talks.

But teachers union leaders contend the district violated fair labor practices by disclosing specific information, typically kept confidential, about terms proposed by both sides.

The district Friday issued a press release that linked to a memo from Superintendent James Feil. The letter, dated June 10, was mailed to all teachers and copied to school board members, with the notice it would "be released publicly within a couple of days to dispel inaccurate information."

The district could face a shortfall of at least $8 million by 2010-11, the letter states. A breakdown of both sides' proposals was attached.

John Scrudato, president of the Traverse City Education Association, said he learned Thursday that administrators planned to release the information.

It was incorrectly implied, he said, that he leaked details to the public.

"I don't know what their basis is. To me, it's totally unfounded," Scrudato said. "This to me was kind of a pre-emptive strike to try to discredit the union."

Don Hakala, UniServ director with the Michigan Education Association, on Friday filed an unfair labor practice violation with the state. Hakala was out of the office Monday and could not be reached for further comment.

Administrators for months refused to comment about the status of negotiations, as has the TCEA.

Union Vice President Mary McGee-Cullen said there were several inaccurate statements in what the district released, but did not want to discuss the alleged differences because it would "sink to their level."

Feil would not comment specifically on any misstatements, but said the union could address their concerns with him.

Administrators and board members decided together to release the information in response to e-mails from teachers, many of which had incorrect information about finances and the district's proposals. Several board members said Monday they support the decision.

The district has not countered the union's May 19 proposal, which prompted the TCEA to request mediation. A tentative date has been set for Aug. 25.

Administrators say they are ready to meet.

"A picture was being painted that the district was unwilling to bargain," board member Dave Barr said, adding that the union bargained publicly each time teachers spoke at meetings or picketed the administration building. "That would lead me to believe that they're not fully apprised of what's going on."

Negotiation details

Traverse City Area Public Schools administrators released details Friday about contract talks between the district and the Traverse City Education Association, which represents teachers, to clarify information about what has been offered.

Details include:

-- Salaries: District proposed a 2 percent increase for 2008-09 and 2009-10. TCEA proposed a 3 percent increase for 2008-09 through 2010-11.

-- Class size: District proposed reducing kindergarten class size from 27 students to 25 and first grade from 27 students to 26, while increasing sixth-grade classes to 33 students from 29 "for purposes of adding an assistant." TCEA proposed reducing kindergarten and first-grade classes from 27 students to 25 and increasing sixth-grade classes from 29 students to 30 to add an aide.

-- Health insurance: District did not propose adding long-term disability insurance as a covered benefit; TCEA did. TCEA also proposed removing $50 co-pay.