L'ANSE - It's overdue by about two-and-a-half months, but L'Anse Area Schools has a new contract with its teachers' union.
The L'Anse Education Association, which represents 51 teachers in the district, ratified its final offer Monday and the LAS board of education approved the new two-year contract Tuesday. The previous contract expired Aug. 31, putting a freeze on wages and defaulting to a health insurance cap.
"They say the best agreement is one neither side is completely happy with, and I think that applies to this case," Superintendent Ray Pasquali said. "From the board perspective and LEA, negotiations were conducted efficiently and professionally, and the main thing is getting to the goal. We're happy to say we do have an agreement and now we can attend to the business of the district, educating students."
Negotiations required a mediator to iron out differences and Ed Eppart worked with the union and board negotiation committees during a final round of intense discussions from 3:30 to 9:20 p.m. Nov. 6, when a tentative agreement was reached.
"Most of the language changes had been agreed to. The mediator was able to help narrow down our differences on the few remaining items and bring us together to conclude negotiations," Pasquali said. "Obviously the differences boiled down to wages and health care cost changes and a new salary schedule for new employees.
"... The union ended up getting a raise, and we ended up with some groundbreaking language for the salary schedule for new employees."
Current teachers will receive their "step" salary increases, which are automatic incremental raises based on longevity and academic credentials, in addition to a 1 percent increase for 2012-13, and another 1 percent for 2013-14. New teacher hires to the district after June 30, 2013, will be on a new salary schedule.
"Due to the flat revenues from the state, we felt we would trade offering an extra year and salary increases for future savings down the road," Pasquali said.
On health insurance, the sides settled on an 80/20 provision, meaning the district pays 80 percent of health care costs, and the employee pays 20 percent, as opposed to the default cap on single, couple and family coverage that had been in place after the expiration of the previous two-year contract. The existing plan with its current deductibles, $500 or $1,000 co-pays, will not change.
On Tuesday, the school board approved a motion to comply with Section 4 of Public Act 152 of 2011 for the medical benefit plan coverage year, which commenced July 1. That motion had to be approved before the two-year contract could be voted on. Both votes were unanimous.
"I guess I would say the LEA is happy to have a contract and pleased the process is over and we can continue to educate the children," said LEA negotiating committee co-chair Michelle Seppanen, who declined further comment.
The LEA committee was represented by Nancy Klingbeil, with committee members including Seppanen, Lisa Cichosz, Mark Smith, Heather Grentz and Betty Cangemi. The school board was represented by Bob Witter, with negotiating committee members including Pasquali, Junior/Senior High School Principal Carrie Meyer (observer, since she will be replacing Pasquali after his retirement in 2013), Anne Koski and Jason Ayres.
Other contract provisions include:
Longevity payments will now be scheduled for 15, 20 and 25 years with the district. The previous contract was for 10, 15 and 20 years.
The new contract year will be July 1 through June 30, aligning it with the state fiscal year with respect to public education. The previous contract cycle was Sept. 1 through Aug. 31.
Payments for coaches will now be on fixed dollars instead of percentages on a rising scale, and union members may now be assigned to more than one coaching assignment.
Extracurricular activity contributions for Camp Nesbit will be reduced from 2 percent to 1.5 percent.
"Association days," days given to union members for union business, have been reduced from three to two.
Payments to teachers for class size overages have been eliminated.
District contributions to the sick leave bank have been eliminated. Employees may still draw from the bank, which stores unused sick days in the case of a shortage for a long-term illness, for example.
Several language changes take effect in relation to grievance procedures, personal items brought to work and payroll. Direct deposit is now available and instead of paychecks every other Friday, they will now be given out on the 8th and 23rd of each month.
A letter of understanding was reached on the use of school equipment assigned to bargaining unit members.
By law, prohibited and unlawful contract language will be removed from the agreement on teacher placement, teacher discipline, reduction and recall of teachers, professional qualification and assignment, promotions, transfers, teacher evaluation and professional dues and fees.