Clare ESP files unfair labor charges against BOE

September 13, 2018

By Pat Maurer

Clare’s Education Support Professional Association (the Clare ESP), a union that represents 31 office personnel and paraprofessionals, has filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) for failing to bargain in good faith and for threats of retaliation.

A hearing on the charges is scheduled for October 24th.

Superintendent Jim Walter responded, “It’s a legal process that has to run its course. We have been bargaining (With the CESP) over a half dozen times and the district’s attorney is at the table leading negotiations.”

Both teachers and support staff began the school year without a new contract. The Clare Education Association (CEA) represents 76 teachers and the Clare Pioneer Education Association (CPEA) represents teachers in the alternative/adult education program a Pioneer School.

All three contracts expired June 30th.

“It’s been a difficult relationship between support staff and me,” Walter said. “It’s been a challenge. We’ve simply disagreed on a number of things including the status of their contract and negotiations.”

Differences at the bargaining table between the Clare ESP and the Board of Education center on economic issues.

The district presently has a fund balance of more than $2.8 million, a 50 percent increase over 2016. The ESP says the budget will receive hundreds of thousands in additional dollars this year with State Aid increases and a larger enrollment than was predicted.

“The district is in a very positive financial condition and clearly they have the ability to settle this contract.  The support staff are seeking a fair and equitable agreement and are committed to achieving that goal,” said Jean Laverty-Weiss, MEA (Michigan Education Association) staff member representing Clare school employees in negotiations.  “Most of what we’ve received in the Board’s proposals only slashes our members’ employment rights and annual income.  More importantly, though, the Board’s proposals will reduce and limit the instructional support time students and parents deserve.”

Walter said the district’s fund balance is over 20 percent. “However,” he said, “but attributing the fund balance to personnel costs is not a good comparison. Personnel costs are perpetual. They go on forever. The district’s goals have included a healthy fund balance for emergencies; meeting over $2.5 million in physical plant needs and the board’s hopes to contribute, through its fun balance to lower taxes in the event of any future bond issue pursuits.”

Regarding the increase in enrollment, Walter said, “It’s true. We are up about 51 students right now, however the fall student count isn’t until October. That increase has necessitated the hiring of two new teachers, currently posting for a third teacher and for a number of support positions.”

The release from the MEA says, “In addition to divisions over compensation issues, the district has proposals on the table with their teachers demanding changes that strip school employees of quality working conditions, including increased class sizes that negatively affect student learning conditions.”

Walter said, “The current board proposal (in negotiations) does not include increasing class sizes.”

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