Friday, December 17, 2010

In Response to Mackinac Center's Lawsuit

A contract agreement negotiated for the current school year saved our district a minimum of $122,000 and kept teachers in the classroom instead of on the unemployment line. The agreement also kept class sizes from expanding in light of our continuing growth in student enrollment.

This landmark regional contract template broke the ice on teachers contributing to the cost of their health care, froze salaries during a difficult financial time for school districts, and preserved jobs for scores of teachers who may have been laid off.


"Our bargaining units worked with us to negotiate a contract that would save jobs and recognize the political reality that all employees should contribute to the cost of their health care," Superintendent David Britten said of the template, which is the target of a lawsuit filed by the Midland-based Mackinac Center. "Our county has had superintendents all across the state ask us how we were able to achieve such a groundbreaking contract, given the debate over employee-paid premiums that has been going on in Lansing for years."


The Mackinac Center filed suit against Godfrey-Lee, Kent ISD and eight other districts - Byron Center, Comstock Park, Godwin Heights, Grandville, Kenowa Hills, Lowell, Northview and Rockford - on December 15 because the template contained language indicating none of the districts would outsource non-instructional services during the duration of the one-year contract.


The regional template was totally voluntary. Each of the 20 districts within Kent ISD had the opportunity to participate if it met their needs. Those that were considering outsourcing services within the 2010-11 school year were advised against participating in the regional template.


"Achieving the goal of every employee contributing to the cost of their health care was a significant milestone," Britten said. "We bargained collaboratively and the savings alone from that clause helped us reduce our budget deficit making it unnecessary to consider any additional outsourcing of services during this school year." The district had already outsourced food service and custodial services, and participates in outsourced regional special education transportation. These additional savings based on the template roughly represent the salaries of two first year teachers. "This agreement allowed us to maintain appropriate class size for our students and maintain programs important to their success."


Despite knowing about the regional agreement since last spring, the Mackinac Center did not bother to contact anyone at Godfrey-Lee directly to discuss the agreement, their concerns about the language, or the process and results of the district's contract negotiations. Had they done so, they would have understood that the objectionable language in the regional template was not used by either side as a bargaining position. "Neither of the district's final agreements with our two labor associations contains any language specifically referring to the issue of privatization," explained Superintendent Britten. "Rather they refer only to the portions of the countywide template that pertain to salaries and insurance protection." The agreements, which amended the existing three-year contracts for the final year expiring next summer, were ratified by the associations and the Board of Education during April 2010 and are available for inspection in the district office.


According to Britten, "It is our position that the Mackinac Center suit is without merit and may falsely accuse the district of entering into a contract agreement containing prohibited language. We are calling on the Mackinac Center to withdraw this suit immediately, which I believe is designed to be just another attack on teachers and public education, and avoid wasting any additional taxpayer dollars."


The Godfrey-Lee administration and Board of Education is proud of the relationship we've developed with our professional and support staff associations, and will continue working alongside our teachers and support staff to identify ways to reduce costs while continually improving the quality of our educational programs for our students as well as our staff.


WOOD TV 8 Story

Grand Rapids Press Article

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