School board, union find little common ground

MARQUETTE – Administrators in the Marquette school district were hoping to clarify the district’s financial status during a school board meeting Monday.

Many hours of public comment during board meetings have been dedicated to the subject of district finances as the school board and the Marquette Area Education Association continue to negotiate a contract.

The MAEA represents teachers in the Marquette Area Public Schools.

The teachers have been working without a contract the entire school year.

The district has said it simply can’t afford what the teachers are asking for, while the union says the district is in sound financial health.

Several people have cited during public comment at board meetings the district’s online financial dashboard located at Munetrix.com as an indicator the union is not asking for too much.

The site lists MAPS’ finances as being low risk or no risk.

Assistant Superintendent for Finance Deb Barry said during Monday’s meeting the fund equity listed on the Munetrix site – which currently sets it at more than $7 million – does not show the day-by-day expenses of the district as they happen. Rather, she said the Munetrix budget line only changes when the board adopts or amends a budget, which it hasn’t done since March.

The year to date totals reflect the most recent board-approved interim financial statements.

Barry said the district has spent $2 million since then and still has bills to pay that include June utilities as well as salaries and benefits.

“When you look at your checkbook balance and you look at your bank statement, they’re dramatically different, because you’ve made transactions that the bank doesn’t yet know about, and if you sit there and say ‘I’m going to take the bank statement balance because it’s higher than what’s in my checkbook,’ you will wind up with bounced checks,” Barry said.

Barry also said the district has yet to receive 17 percent of its total revenues for the year, but still has roughly 32 percent of its expenditures to account for. Fiscal years end for public schools June 30.

Several people spoke in support of teachers during public comment Monday, including former state Rep. Steve Lindberg, who said the problem in Marquette was not between the teachers and the district but in improper funding for public education.

He urged people to contact their legislators, citing his own experience in Lansing as an example of the effectiveness a large group of outspoken people can have.

Trustee Jean Hetrick, who has often during board meetings encouraged people to contact their legislators, said she has contacted every legislator in Lansing and has been discouraged by the sometimes rude responses.

“Unfortunately, not every representative responds nor do they respond kindly to you, so maybe that’s why some people don’t contact legislators is because they’re rude,” Hetrick said.

Board President Rich Rossway took issue with a statement made during public comment by MAEA chief negotiator Fred Cole, who said the board and the teachers were $100,000 from making a deal during their last negotiating session, a number he said was small in comparison to the district’s overall budget.

Speaking about the contract negotiations in general, Cole quoted what Joseph Welch said to Sen. Joseph McCarthy exactly 60 years ago to the day:

“‘Have you no decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?’ I think that’s a very fitting comment for our negotiations,” Cole said, before walking out of the room.

Rossway said he was proud to serve with each member of the MAPS board and that they were all decent people “trying to do what’s best for the district.”

Rossway also said the board was committed to ensuring MAPS teachers were the highest paid in the county.

“We’ve made that commitment … (Superintendent Bill) Saunders has made that commitment, we have said that publicly, and that means, bottom line, we’ve looked at the contracts and we feel our current offer exceeds that and continues to address that,” Rossway said.

No new mediation session has been scheduled between the two parties. The most recent took place roughly two weeks ago.

In other action, the board heard an update from Saunders on the district’s realignment plan, approved the district’s membership in the Michigan High School Athletic Association for the 2014-2015 school year and approved a resolution offering no objection to a beer tent being set up near the Vandenboom Early Childhood Development Center during Marquette Township’s annual Community Day.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.