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The Willow Run Education Association has agreed to a five-year contract with the district that includes several years of pay cuts. The board approved the contract with the union last night during its regular meeting.
The new contract, which begins with the 2009-2010 school year, includes a 4 percent pay cut for teachers next year. Teachers will receive 3 percent less than their current pay in the 2011-2012 school year and 2.5 percent less than their current pay in the 2012-2013 school year. During the final year of the contract, teachers will receive the same pay they receive now. There will not be seniority or step increases for teachers during the contract.
“We did feel that this was the best contract that we could bargain. It’s not a good contract, but we felt it was the best we could do at this time,” said Kathleen Miller, WREA unit representative.
Willow Run currently faces a $3.3 million budget deficit. The district’s contract with the WREA teachers union can be re-negotiated for the 2014-2015 school year or as soon as the district’s fund balance is positive – whichever comes first.
“One of the things we put in that contract that I hope is a fail-safe for both sides is that when we get to where we’re going, we’re going to sit down, and we’re going to open that contract, and we’re going to figure out what’s fair. We’re going to do what’s right by everybody,” said Bert Emerson, the district’s director of business services. “We’re going to get out of this mess, and maybe it’ll be a little quicker than we thought.”
The cuts were made, Emerson said, because of the district’s dire financial situation. The district has submitted a deficit elimination plan to the state; however, it has not yet been approved.
Willow Run also expects a cut in per-student state funding, increased premiums for health benefits for employees, as well as increased district contributions to the Michigan Public School Employees' Retirement System starting next school year.
“They stepped up and did the right thing,” Emerson said. “The concessions in this contract are big-deal stuff. That needs to be recognized in this community.”
Both district administrators and union representatives praised the other side for their work on the contract.
“We couldn’t do this without all the collaboration,” said district Superintendent Laura Lisiscki. “We’ve just really come together. There is a good feeling to know that we are moving forward and that we are making major league sacrifices and that we have our kids’ best interests in mind.”
Miller said of the WREA members who voted, 73 percent voted in favor of the new contract.
“The climate at the table was the best that I have ever been at,” Miller said. “We felt their pain. They felt our pain.”
On top of pay cuts at the local level, Willow Run teachers and staff also face other cuts to their take-home pay at the state level. Starting July 1, school employees will be required to contribute 3 percent of their paycheck to a health care trust for retirees, in addition to what they currently contribute to the pension system. Michigan recently made these reforms to save the state from slashing up to $215-per-student in funding to schools.
“We also want to make sure and hope that the state also recognizes these concessions and the sacrifices that the teachers have made,” Miller said.
The state reform bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Wednesday, also includes some additional retirement incentives for those eligible.