Board, union reach deal

GLADSTONE – The Gladstone School Board voted to approve a new teacher contract agreement during a special meeting Wednesday night.

“It’s a three-year contract that includes this year and goes forward for the next two years,” said Superintendent Jay Kulbertis.

The new agreement – which applies to all teachers in the district – officially took effect Wednesday night and replaces the previous one-year contract that expired Aug. 25.

All teachers currently employed by the Gladstone School District are members of the Gladstone Education Association, a teachers’ union which is affiliated with the Michigan Education Association. The school board and the union have been negotiating the new contract since last July.

“There was no single issue that resulted in the drawn-out negotiating,” said Kulbertis. “Rather, the combination of changes at the state level in priorities and legislation, and especially how those changes lead to additional consequences – both intended and unintended – was the cause of extra care on both sides of the table.”

The new contract comes on the brink of Michigan’s new right-to-work law, which took effect Thursday. Because the contract was approved prior to the law taking effect, Gladstone teachers will not be affected by RTW until the negotiation of the 2015 contract.

“I do think there was some added enthusiasm on the part of the teachers’ association to reach an agreement that would be effective prior to the legislated deadline,” said Kulbertis. “We have been negotiating regularly since July, and would likely have reached the same final settlement, but it may have taken a bit longer without this last legislative motivation.”

Few changes were made to teacher wages, working conditions, and benefits under the new contract. However, the wage adjustment and benefit package structures in the contract are designed to achieve cost savings in each of the three years.

“There were not a great many changes made, as the focus was on balancing cost containment for the district with a fair wages and benefits package for the teachers,” said Kulbertis.

The salary schedule for teachers remains the same. Teachers who were scheduled to receive wage increases at the beginning of the school year will receive an increase prorated to the day the contract was adopted by the school board.

This year there will be no changes to insurance provided through the school. However, next year the district will offer a second, lower cost health insurance option.

“Anyone who’s willing to take part in the lower cost option will be able to share in the savings,” said Kulbertis.

In addition to the cost savings from changes to the structure of benefits and wages, the three-year contract gives the district an advantage in planning future budgets.

“We can figure in a whole lot of known costs as we budget for the upcoming school year and beyond,” said Kulbertis.

According to Kulbertis, the biggest advantage of having an extended contract is that teachers and the school board can be on the same side working for the benefit of students without concerns over contracts.

“The negotiation process is a series of disagreements, but we work to find that space in between where we can agree,” said Kulbertis. “The most rewarding piece in this contract settlement is that it is a three-year deal, allowing us to focus our attention on teaching and learning, instead of on negotiating.”