Dearborn’s teachers will now have a clearer idea of what they will face on the wage and benefit front now that the members of Dearborn Federation of Teachers have voted in favor of a four-year collective bargaining agreement.
The agreement, which was approved by a vote of 877-84, will expire in 2013. Teachers have worked without a permanent agreement since 2009 under extensions of the previous contract and this contract will be retroactive to that year.
The contact will now go to a vote by the Dearborn Board of Education during their May 9 meeting.
Press Conference Brings Details to Light
At a press conference at Tuesday morning, representatives from Dearborn Schools and the DFT announced that teachers, depending on where they are in the schools' compensatory step program, will take a pay cut of 6 or 7 percent over the life of the four-year contract.
The “step system” used by the district will mean that members at the top of the pay scale will have to accept pay reductions. Other teachers may see small increases because they will still be able to advance a step, but not the increases they would have received under the last contract, Sipperley said.
Also, it was announced that the agreement will, for the first time ever, shift control of the teacher’s health care plan from the district to the union–a measure district officials hope will allow more focus to be placed on education.
Additionally, the school year schedule will remain intact and there will be no reductions in classroom stipends or preparation times, Sipperley said.
Supt. Brian Whiston said the pay concessions are a difficult pill to swallow for teachers, and that asking for such givebacks was personally difficult.
“Our teachers work hard, so it is very difficult,” he said. “But not doing so would have meant that I’d be cutting $22 million from the budget; now I only have to cut $3 million. And it would have meant the loss of about 300 jobs, changes to programs like athletics, the loss of other programs–it would have been disastrous for us as a district.”
With 18,600 students and 2,500 employees, Dearborn Schools is the fourth-largest public school district in terms of enrollment in Michigan. Teachers have not had a raise since 2008, and wages for 2009 and 2010 are essentially frozen under the new deal, said Whiston.
Health Care Changes
The new health care trust, which will take effect retroactively to 2009, will establish a health care plan that will be managed by the Michigan AFL-CIO Public Employee Trust. The trust an employee-based pool focused on the health of its members that is financed by a fixed contribution from the district.
For 2012-13, the district will contribute $997 per month, per employee for the plan. The following year, that contribution will increase by 7 percent.
District contributions will be subject to collective bargaining with the union.
Personnel electing to use Preferred Provider Organization health plan will, for the first time, pay monthly premiums of $218, versus the $625 that they district had proposed. Previously, teachers only had to pay for copays through the program.
Whiston said the plan will help the district cut itself off from unplanned health care increases.
“Health care costs are going up by 10 to 15 percent a year,” he said. “This way, we know what our contribution will be for the life of the contract.”
Cost issues, then, will be managed by the union, and cost savings will be decided by the membership. Sipperley said the main focus for the union is to get members enrolled.
“There will be someone at our office full-time to answer questions,” she said. “We will be educating our membership about what they do with their health, and how it affects the plan.”
Union Happy with Outcome
Chris Sipperley, the president of the Dearborn Federation of Teachers, said she’s happy an agreement was approved by her membership after a protracted and sometimes contentious bargaining period.
“I’m delighted that the contract was approved,” she said. “I was confident that it would be approved. There are some good things in it for the teachers.”
John Lenders, a German teacher at , said he voted in favor of the contract.
“It’s going to be hard to take a pay cut, but in my experience with the way collective bargaining works, it’s better to accept a proposed agreement because what comes after is usually worse,” he said. “There are a lot of things about the contract that are positive, though.”
There is a silver lining for teachers that has little do with the actual contract, said Sipperley.
The increasingly politicized environment faced by educators includes potential changes to teacher tenure rules and work rules that are favored by Republicans in the state legislature and by Gov. Rick Snyder. Though the contract negotiations, Dearborn teachers have learned to take an active role in deciding what their district needs.
“We’ve seen teachers take an increased interest in the issues we’re facing and I hope we can continue to see the level of involvement we’ve seen over the last few months,” she said. “(The state) is continuing to cut (funding for) schools, and there are more battles to face.”