Niles Community Schools battle teacher's union on new contract

Contract negotiations between administrators at Niles Community Schools and the district's 216 teachers are coming to a head.

Monday night nearly 100 teachers and community members attended the Niles Board of Education meeting to protest the district’s final offer.

The negotiations began in Jan. 2011. That’s a painful realization for administrators which claim under the current teacher’s union contract, the district is losing $7,413 a day, equating to roughly $215,000 a month.

Last year Michigan funding cuts fell at the desk of Superintendent Richard Weigel, forcing him to slash $1.9 million from the district's budget. This school year, Gov. Rick Snyder hacked more, sending many schools like Niles back to the cutting block.

"Our revenue has decreased to such an extent that we're now finding that our revenue cannot keep up with our expenditures,” Supt. Weigel said.

"We're 55% of the budget approximately, but they're asking us to absorb 80% of the cuts. I guess my question is, 'If there isn't any low-hanging fruit, then why are they creating two new administrator positions in the district,'" NDEA President Katherine Elsner said.

Administrators say they took an eight-percent pay cut. Secretaries followed and sliced their salaries by more than two-percent. Transportation and food services were out-sourced, maintenance crews agreed to cheaper insurance, but district leaders say teachers haven't done their part.

"We have provided several different offers, unfortunately the offers from the union have been less than helpful,” Weigel added.

However, education leaders project the Niles District Education Association’s last offer would put the school corporation $2,037,472 in debt by the 2013-2014 academic year. By 2014-2015, the district says it would be $4,998,498 in the hole.

"When they project out that far, we're a little reluctant to take those extended projections. For example, they projected student enrollment would be down this year by 95 students. We actually had an increase of 180 students,” Elsner added.

However, district leaders believe the writing is on the wall, saying their final contract is the only option they have left.

"We really did our best to cut everything we could. We've cut paper and supplies and textbooks and we're down to a point where we have got to ask for concessions,” Weigel stated.

"Negotiations are a two way street and there are ways that we can find solutions to these difficult problems. It's not going to be easy, but it's going to require compromise on both sides,” Elsner concluded.

Administrators say although they've frozen pay and enacted layoffs in the past, this marks the first time in district history that they've actually asked teachers for salary cuts.

If no agreement is made, the district can actually impose its contract on teachers. There’s no word as to when or if that course of action will be taken.

If you'd like to take a closer look at the district's current and proposed salary offers, just click on the document attached to this story.

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