MAPS contract stalemate matter of dollars and ‘sense’

In political campaigns, there are typically two candidates trying to sell opposing viewpoints to win you over to their side.

Currently in Marquette, one sees signs that indicate support for Marquette teachers. What you won’t find in yards are signs voicing support for the Marquette school board or support for Marquette taxpayers. The reason for this is that this isn’t a typical political campaign.

The board of education and the administration are not asking for your support. They are simply trying to keep the school district alive and well while operating under the guidelines the state provides for school funding.

We believe that if you ask any member of the MAPS school board if they support teachers, you would hear them say they absolutely support Marquette teachers. The issue comes from the school board having to run the operation with fiscal responsibility.

School board members only receive a modest per-meeting stipend for serving on the panel so clearly they aren’t in it for the money. They run for the school board and donate significant amounts of their time because they believe in education and they want to have a strong school system.

When economic times were better and health care costs more reasonable, it was easier to hand out heftier pay hikes. The truth of the matter is now the current pay and benefit structure that MAPS teachers have enjoyed over the years is no longer sustainable.

Private business has had to make hard adjustments to survive these tough economic times. Many companies have had to put into effect pay freezes or make staff reductions to try and survive. Many companies have realized pay increases – if available at all – must be in the 1 percent to 2 percent range.

Health care costs have gone up causing higher premiums and higher deductibles. That means the take-home pay over the last five years for many working folks has gone backwards.

School districts are just now experiencing the same reality the private sector has been dealing with for years.

Teachers in several Michigan school districts are making less money because of this reality. For example, Menominee imposed a 5 percent reduction in teachers pay after negotiations failed to produce a plan that would work for both sides. In Iron Mountain, the administration and board are currently requesting a 7.5 percent reduction in pay for teachers so they can operate their school district without going broke. And downstate Alpena recently imposed a 10 percent across-the-board cut in pay for its teachers and all school personnel so the school district can remain solvent.

The teachers in Marquette are, indeed, fortunate the last proposal they were given included an offer that ranged from a 2 1/2 percent to a 6 percent pay increase for the school year, which includes a share of savings the district would realize from retiring teachers.

At face value, this proposal looks like a lot better deal than the other three Michigan school districts listed above.

We don’t expect teachers to be pleased about seeing smaller pay raises along with rising health care costs. Who would? This feeling of unhappiness has also been prevalent in the private sector for years.

The bottom line here is current economic conditions dictate new ways have to be found to navigate through challenging economic times.

We, at The Mining Journal, support teachers and education, which is evident by the volume of coverage we have provided both over the years. But we also support the board of education and administration in working hard to run a fiscally-responsible school district.

There are no easy answers to the current stalemate. Both sides need to keep an open mind and realize they have similar goals, which are a strong and viable school district.

This is not just a simple matter of dollars and cents anymore. This is more of a matter of dollars and “sense.”