Marquette teachers and district continue mediation

MARQUETTE – Mediation will continue between Marquette Area Public Schools and its teachers union after a session Tuesday night ended with no agreement.

Stu Skauge, Marquette and Alger counties’ UniServ director for the Michigan Education Association, said of the session that “zero progress was made.”

The district and the Marquette Area Education Association entered into mediation with state mediator Ed Eppert after negotiations were leading nowhere.

The sticking points have been over wages, health insurance and class sizes.

While MAPS Superintendent Bill Saunders declined to comment on Tuesday’s session, he did defend the district’s position that offering the teachers what they want would put the district in dire financial straits.

“I’m on the record and I continue to be on the record – I support our teachers 100 percent. I’ve never wavered. I’m a teacher, I still consider myself a teacher although I’m in an administrative position,” Saunders said. “I want what’s best for our district, I want what’s best for our teachers and I want what’s best for our students. And unfortunately, funding and dollars and cents, and enrollment and revenue, all that stuff has to come into play.”

He said as negotiations, and now mediation, progressed it appears as though the union is not willing to work collaboratively with the district.

“Traditionally, we haven’t had a true collaborative negotiation model and I think that does hurt us,” Saunders said. “I’ve offered that and I’d like to be more collaborative but that’s not the model that they’ve chosen to adopt and work with.”

Skauge had a similar comment as to the way the district has conducted negotiations.

“Both sides are supposed to negotiate fairly,” Skauge said. “We don’t feel their side is negotiating fairly. They have an obligation to bargain fairly with us and they’re not doing that.”

A recent proposal from the district asked for a three-year contract that included a 1 percent off schedule raise the first year, then a 2 percent on schedule raise in each of the last two years. An off-schedule payment is a one-time increase that does not affect base pay while an on-schedule payment is added to base pay.

The proposal did not include steps or lanes. Steps are pay increases based on years of service. Lanes are pay increases based on the educational level of the person.

The union has asked the district to accept a three-year contract that includes steps and lanes and a 1 percent on-schedule raise in each of the three years.

“I think they had made up their mind before we ever had our first meeting in August that all the unions were going to have to settle for 1 percent off the first year, 2 percent on the second year and 2 percent on the third year and without steps and lanes,” Skauge said. “And they made that precondition before we ever started meeting.”

The next mediation session is scheduled for April 8.

The two parties came into current negotiations following a previous tense negotiation that ended after the district filed an unfair labor practice claim with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission Oct. 8.

A contract was signed by both parties Oct. 25, four months after it had already expired.

The claim was made against the MAEA, Upper Peninsula Education Association and the Michigan Education Association, alleging a violation of Section 10 of Act 336, Public Act 1947.

The section dictates what districts and unions are allowed to do during negotiations.

Saunders said the district filed the claim because the deadline for filing was fast approaching and an agreement had still not been made.

“The board had voted to instruct administration to file the unfair labor practice,” Saunders said, referencing a May vote by the MAPS board of education. “When they voted to do that, the window for the unfair labor practice was six months, so we weren’t able to get that contract signed, initially, through negotiations. So, as we got closer to the end of that six-month window, it made sense to file that.”

Skauge said the district and union had already come to a verbal agreement and the district only filed the claim at the urging of its attorney.

“It was still kind of silly to have to sign a contract that was over, but if that’s what they wanted, that’s fine,” Skauge said. “It didn’t matter. The contract had already expired.”