By DAVID GREEN
Morenci teachers have joined other school groups in agreeing to make financial concessions due to the district’s economic situation.
The concession agreement should save the district $90,000 between now and Aug. 31, 2011, with the potential to save much more through early retirement incentives.
The Morenci Education Association (MEA) presented a five-point concession package early in the month and the document received board of education approval Jan. 11. Although not unanimous, union members approved the proposal Jan. 18.
“Due to the economic situation facing Morenci schools, the Morenci Education Association felt that it was necessary at this time to make concessions to help ensure the viability and longevity of our school system,” said MEA president Brad Brown in a statement from the union.
Morenci’s decision wasn’t a popular one at the county and state level.
“Against the recommendation of both the Michigan Education Association and the Lenawee County Education Association (groups that felt we should wait until financial circumstances became even more dire before we took action), Morenci teachers felt strongly that we pass a concession package now to do our part during these difficult economic times,” Brown explained.
Morenci’s school administration approached union members in September when the impact of falling enrollment was learned.
“It’s a very positive step for them to take,” said Morenci Superintendent of Schools Kyle Griffith. “It’s been a lengthy process and a difficult task for them.”
“Every group has given,” he said in reference to other school employees. “We’re in this together. We’re all pitching in to keep the district going.”
The greatest savings will come from a decision that each of the 43 full-time union members will contribute $1,000 annually toward their health insurance premium. Teachers who have chosen to receive cash instead of insurance benefits will each receive a thousand dollars less in pre-taxed funds.
The contribution will be made through a payroll deduction.
Brown said the change puts Morenci about in the middle of the pack among county schools regarding staff contribution to insurance costs.
Additional savings will come through the elimination of half of the annual salary increase steps. Before, teachers received an annual salary increase every year in the first 12 years of employment. Now, increases will be given every other year, starting with the second year of employment.
Another change was made in regard to pay for coaches.
Currently, Brown said, coaches receive an annual three percent salary increase once they have served for 10 years and reach the top of the pay scale. The three percent boost will be eliminated.
Coaches who are not members of the union will now receive a flat rate regardless of experience, based on a percentage of a first-year teacher’s pay. The percentage varies depending on the sport.
The final point in the concession package—an early retirement incentive—could lead to considerable savings beyond the $90,000.
“That’s the biggest potential benefit to the district,” Griffith said. “It’s really a big plus for the district.”
In conjunction with the concessions, eligible teachers are offered a $20,000 retirement incentive if at least three union members choose the option in the same year. If only two members choose to retire, the incentive drops to $15,000.
Teachers have until March 1 to choose the option for the 2010-11 school year.
In effect, Griffith said, the teachers are helping fund the early retirement incentive through their health insurance concession. Instead of early retirement funding coming from the board, he said, the union is participating by reducing the district’s costs for employee benefits. It’s a very unique situation, he said.
Brown said he hopes the cuts will help protect teaching jobs as well as benefit students.
“Our teachers care deeply for the students, as well as the district as a whole, and we feel that keeping as much of our staff intact as possible is a high priority,” he said. “In offering these concessions, we hope staff reductions will be minimized, thus stabilizing class sizes, preventing teachers from teaching outside areas of experience, and continuing to offer quality elective programs.”