Morenci teachers agree to contract

By DAVID GREEN

Morenci’s teachers voted to help take a chunk out of the expected deficit by accepting a two percent pay cut for the school year starting next week.

Teachers voted nearly unanimously to accept the new one-year contract in a vote Monday morning. The Morenci Board of Education followed with a 7-0 vote of approval at a special meeting Monday night.

Teachers worked without a contract last year and negotiations had stalled over the summer. That changed last week when the two sides reached a tentative agreement.

“We sat down last week and made it work,” said board president Scott Merillat.

The board was initially seeking a six percent cut, Merillat said, and district superintendent Dr. Michael Osborne announced over the summer that he would take a six percent pay reduction.

Both sides agreed that a two percent cut now was better than continuing to wrangle over a larger amount, Merillat said.

“Two percent is not enough to get us out of deficit,” he said, “but it’s a significant step in the right direction. I’m happy with two percent. It’s for the long-term good of the district.”

The teachers’ union issued a statement about the contract, noting that members continued to give up salary and health insurance benefits.

“The Morenci Education Association reached a tentative agreement for a one year contract with the school district on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012. The tentative agreement was brought to the Education Association membership on Monday, Aug. 27, at 8:30 am. The membership voted to ratify the tentative agreement.

“The contract is a full concessionary contract settlement on the part of the teachers. The Morenci teaching staff took a two percent salary reduction, reductions in stipends, and major concessions on health insurance. This concession will be a hardship on the teachers, however, the staff is willing to sacrifice to preserve student services for all students at Morenci.

“The Association would like to start the school year in collaboration with the district and the community, and their concessions are their sign of moving toward more success for all in Morenci.”

Dr. Osborne agrees. Had the teachers not accepted the new contract, they would have been paid at the old schedule which would have been to their benefit personally. Instead they chose to help the district during tough financial times.

“School employees have been hit pretty hard,” he said.

State government made cuts to health insurance and retirement benefits while negotiations were underway in recent months.

He said projections are calling for a deficit of about $118,000 following the new contract, but so much hinges on enrollment. Once the district falls into a projected deficit later this year, it will have three years to get back into the black.

Osborne said the administration will have to begin looking at further cuts in the spring, but for now both sides are pleased to move forward.

“It was good to see the teachers step up and say, ‘We’ll do our part,’” Merillat said.

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