The second largest teachers' union in the state has filed an unfair labor practice charge against Utica Community Schools this week. The Utica Education Association states that they have lost $65 million in wages since 2011.
That seems like a staggering amount of money, so let’s put it in context. In 2011, Governor Rick Snyder cut state funding for education, which resulted in an approximate $470 per-pupil funding cut statewide. Liza Parkinson, president of the UEA, says, “We all did our part.” In other words, teachers took pay cuts so they could still fully staff schools and provide programming for kids.
“We believe that since Utica Community Schools was restored last year from this devastating $470 per pupil cut, it is now time to honor the sacrifice that we made and start to restore our placement on the salary schedule,” says Parkinson.
The typical salary schedule for teachers corresponds to years of service and degrees obtained. In the example provided by Parkinson, a teacher who has worked at a school for ten years should be at step 10 on the salary schedule. According to Parkinson, teachers who should be at this level in Utica Community Schools are still at pay level 4.5. Parkinson says the teachers are not expecting to make up all of the money they lost by getting off of the salary schedule, but they believe that since the education budget has been restored, it’s time for teachers to get back on schedule.
“We are not asking for the $65 million back. We know that that is money that the district has used to educate our kids. But, we are asking to be moved up the salary schedule and phase in a full-step restoration over the course of two or three years,” says Parkinson.
Parkinson says there have been issues with the bargaining team provided by the school district. The ULP states that UCS engaged in “specific acts of bad faith” and “has sent representatives to the bargaining table without the actual authority to negotiate or make a decision. Parkinson describes drawn out meetings in which nothing got done, and the bargaining process was extremely drawn out.
“I have been vested with the authority, as have my fellow bargaining team members, to represent the interests of the teachers for UCS. The bargaining team for UCS has also been vested with that authority, but they do not conduct themselves as though they have been vested with that power,” she says.
Parkinson says UCS’s bargaining team has been subject to micromanaging from superintendent, Christine M. Johns.
“Sure, we caucus and discuss, but [the school district’s bargaining team] have to make phone calls after each proposal. We cannot expect to conduct these meetings in an efficient manner if they need to constantly call and consult with the superintendent,” says Parkinson.
The UEA has been in talks with the district since March, with their previous contract having expired in June. The last day of bargaining was set to be November 1, but an agreement was not reached. Parkinson says that among other things, the UEA is also bargaining for better mental health resources for students in their new contract.
Utica Community Schools did not respond to our request for comment at the time of publication.