Source: Grosse Pointe News Online

Unions take cuts

by A.J. Hakim Staff Writer

January 17, 2013

No one saw it coming. In 2009-2010, at the time of the last collective bargaining agreement, the Grosse Pointe Public School System’s general fund equity bordered around $17 million, thought to be a safe enough number that the Grosse Pointe Education Association and other groups agreed to a clause in their contracts holding them accountable to make up the difference for any time the fund equity dipped below 10 percent.

“Nobody, when we were doing this contract, on either side of the team, could’ve predicted what happened with the state and how bad it happened,” said Cheri Burley, in her first year as GPEA President. “So, we found ourselves where we’re at at this point.”

At this point, due to a dramatic decrease in state funding, combined with the district’s desire to maintain programming and class size as is, and a still-struggling economy during the past few years, the bargaining units find themselves responsible for paying back 2.7 percent to fund equity, which dropped from nearly $17 million in 2009-2010 to $7.3 million in 2011-2012.

To Burley and the teachers, that means a 3.34 percent permanent reduction to their base salary and a change in employee health insurance coverage from Blue Cross Blue Shield Plan 2 to Plan 10. The switch to Plan 10 limited teachers’ salary reductions from a 4.56 percent reduction to the current 3.34 percent.

“Where our employees are moving to is paying for 20 percent of their benefits which is one of the two places that’ll be legal for us to land after our collective bargaining agreements expire, which would either be employees paying for 20 percent or imposing what’s called the Hard Cap for health care costs,” deputy superintendent of educational services, Jon Dean, said during a recent board of education meeting. “So, we’re moving to that 20 percent earlier and it’s frankly something that some of our employee groups have embraced and said, we know this is coming, let’s start this a little early because it will defray this year.”

Reductions in salary started with the first paycheck after winter break and run through the remaining pay periods, June 7 for teachers on a 21-pay schedule and Aug. 14 for those on a 26-pay schedule. Employees’ new health coverage starts Feb. 1, though payments have already begun.

According to Burley, agreeing to payment reductions right away rather than waiting to complete negotiations on the new bargaining contracts helped alleviate the “hit” teachers took, though further reductions still loom on the horizon, as the district predicts fund equity to fall to about $2 million at year’s end.

Despite the predictions, Burley hopes that if all groups work collectively on the new contract and on the budget, that they’re able to prevent any further reductions.

“It’s been on everyone’s mind, everyone is very concerned,” Burley said. “We’re taking a hit for something that’s already done and gone and we’re already into December, into the new budget, which was already pre-approved before school got out last year. The ability for us to work collectively to solve these issues is what’s going to keep coming out of my mouth, keep coming out of my mouth. We cannot maintain everything as it is with all these huge cuts. We can’t.”