Niles teachers still working without contract

After more than a year, Niles Community Schools and its teachers have yet to reach a contract agreement.

They’ve been bargaining for the past 18 months; for the first time ever, the district is asking teachers to take a pay cut.

In order for the district to survive after a decrease in state funding, leaders say teachers need to take a 10 percent pay cut.

“These are huge cuts,” said Joe Washington with the Michigan Education Association. “A 10 percent wage reduction is about $6,700 dollars or roughly about $560 a month. Then you couple that with the insurance cap, so you're looking at $1,000 a month that teachers are going to have their income reduced.”

Washington met with teachers behind closed doors at Ballard Elementary School Monday night to discuss where negotiations stand and what they could mean to teachers.

He says the district’s proposal wouldn’t give people enough money to support their families.

“A single teacher, she has a mortgage of $800 and she has to put her house up for sale and move in with her parents,” he said. “These are the types of decisions teachers have to make if they settle with this proposal.”

While the teachers discussed the contract, a group of Berrien County residents stood outside Ballard to show their support.

“I’m in support of Niles teachers getting a fair contract,” said former teacher Lana Schlipp.

But district leaders say it’s time for teachers to do their part – administrators have already taken an 8 percent pay cut, secretaries a more than 2 percent pay cut and maintenance crews have agreed to cheaper insurance.

The district’s also outsourced transportation and food services to try and cut costs.

Teachers and supporters wore black to Monday’s school board meeting to show their solidarity. None of the teachers spoke and they left after the public comment portion of the meeting.

Negotiations will continue. A mediation session is scheduled for May.

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