Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 18, 2014

TCAPS, teachers union get ready for fact finding

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Contract negotiations between Traverse City Area Public Schools and the district’s teachers union are about to go public.

Both sides in the longstanding contract dispute will meet with a state-appointed fact finder during an open meeting at the district’s administration building on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

District officials and Traverse City Education Association leaders began negotiating a new contract last spring. They’ve exchanged numerous contract proposals since April, including two this month. Members of the TCEA, which represents roughly 550 teachers, nurses, social workers and counselors, continue to work under the terms of a contract that expired in late August.

The newest proposals from each side focus on three subjects: salaries, insurance and a grievance procedure.

“Those three should be able to be addressed on Wednesday,” said Christine Davis, the district’s executive director of human resources.

The points of dispute will be identified at the meeting on Wednesday. Each side will then present witnesses and testimony to support their positions. They’ll also decide whether to file post-fact finding briefs at the conclusion of the hearing, said Barry Ott, the state-appointed fact finder.

Ott said he’ll then release public findings and a public, non-binding recommendation.

“Hopefully, that would cause the parties to get back to the bargaining table using that recommendation as a basis, hopefully, to reach an agreement,” Ott said.

District officials expect to receive the fact finding report no later than April 19, Davis said.

Davis said district officials’ goal is to continue to meet with union representatives to reach an agreement.

The TCEA proposal dated Feb.12 includes a 4-percent “off schedule payment” this year, a 4-percent salary increase next year, and additional compensation for “educational credits” and “step” increases for each year of continued employment with TCAPS.

Previous TCEA proposals sought 2-percent salary increases.

Mary McGee-Cullen, UniServ director for the Michigan Education Association and a member of the TCEA bargaining team, said a recent amendment to TCAPS’ budget prompted the change in the proposed salary increase.

Officials reduced TCAPS’ budgeted annual shortfall earlier this month to about $2 million from the $2.5 million shortfall originally projected, according to district records.

“The district has the ability to pay, and really that sums everything up,” McGee-Cullen said.

The TCAPS Board of Education proposal to the union dated Feb. 3 contains no salary increases. It does include educational credit increases and step increases.

Both proposals, which are available for review on the district’s website, also include different splits on each party’s obligation to cover health insurance cost increases, and different parameters to the formal grievance process outlined in union members’ contracts.

TCEA President Jeff Leonhardt said he hopes the two parties reach a “fair and equitable” agreement.

“I look forward to settling this and putting it behind us,” he said.