Public Comments Offer Fresh Perspectives at School Board Meeting

Many members of West Bloomfield Families Stand United approached the podium at the West Bloomfield meeting for the first time Monday to address their concerns about ongoing contract negotiations.

As Nancy Cooper approached the podium for the first time at a , she said she felt very self-conscious. She said that it made her “nervous” to discuss leaving the one commonality that she shared with a room packed full of her peers at the media center Monday night.

“My individual classrooms are well-supported. It’s the bigger community I see suffering,” she said, referring to negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement which have reached impasse since they began in August 2010. “I never thought I’d say that. I want to get that pride back.”

When the meeting adjourned, Cooper said that she felt like she “had a lot of support in the room” after speaking for the first time as an organizer of (WBFSU), who saw several other members speak for the first time, all wearing signature blue T-shirts to serve as a comparison with the ’s red T-shirts.

Different speakers offer different solutions

Some proposed different ways to get the contract ratified, such as Jeffery Kovacs, who said that he had a daughter working as a member of the West Bloomfield Education Association. “I’ve been negotiating union contracts since 1973, and I can tell everyone here from the (teacher’s union) to (WBFSU) that you don’t have the perspective you need if you haven’t been at the table. This board has been dealt an impossible hand,” he said.

Christy Forhan, a mother of three in the district, said that imposition of a contract offer may prove to be the best option for everyone involved. “Everyone deserves a sense of stability. Imposition gives us a starting point,” she said.

Others presented independent research on proposals made public made by the school district and the Michigan Education Association (MEA) during the negotiation process, research which Laura Mesner said that she had done for the first time after becoming involved with WBFSU. “The MEA is doing a disservice to its members and our kids with this contract … this health care package is, what I would call, a ‘Cadillac,’” said the mother.

The MEA, represented at a local level by the West Bloomfield Education Association (WBEA), was reported by Assistant Superintendent Rick Arnett to have not accepted the district’s contract proposal at the last mediation session March 8.  WBEA member and Green Elementary School teacher Angelene Welton spoke at the meeting on behalf of the union: “We try not to bring this to the workplace, but we’re human. The unsettling part is to the point where (imposition) would happen and would be retroactive. To go from receiving a check and to have that cut down … it would throw a lot of people for a loop.”

Board president David Einstandig did not reply to individual queries, as per custom, but did compliment everyone who spoke at the meeting, including parents and teachers.

“It’s about the courage to speak. It’s not just about T-shirts. Anyone who took the microphone to speak, you can tell it took a lot within to get up to that microphone and state how they feel. Whatever the issue is, I applaud that,” he said afterward.

concerned parent March 15, 2011 at 01:59 PM
I don't think imposition is a solution, especially if it is retroactive. It is my understanding that there are some teachers that actually wouldn't receive a paycheck for the rest of the year. If teachers jumped a big step, they would have to pay that step back under a retroactive imposition. Could you afford to go 3 months without getting a paycheck? It's one thing to cut pay 10%, but making it retroactive could be devistating.
A west Bloomfield Resident March 15, 2011 at 02:44 PM
I am one of those teachers. I am on lunch right now. The concerns of those on steps is a real issue. The offer from the district is for another step freeze and that will be 2.5 freezes in 4 years. I look at it as not a 10% cut but add in the 3% cut from the state , increased insurance costs, and the step freezes and I am at 36.2% cut in salary. Please visit this site to see if all cuts are fair. http://www.westbloomfieldkidsfirst.com/admin-perks-comparison.html
Laura Mesner March 15, 2011 at 03:39 PM
The MEA needs to admit that they cannot negotiate in the best interest of their members AND in the best interest of their non-profit (who has $260,000,000 in the bank) insurance arm, MESSA. I urge the teachers need to stand up against the MEA and let someone without this huge conflict of interest do their bargaining.
Mark March 15, 2011 at 10:56 PM
This newly formed group of 80 parents does not speak for or is representative of all the parents in the district. 8 days ago, this group was formed, and through dialog led by their leader, created the following mission statement. We demand that you negotiate fairly, creatively and in good faith to come to an agreement on the teacher contract. Its leader then stood up at last nights board meeting and felt that after her intense and obviously well qualified research, the imposition of the contract may prove to be the best option. If the leader's swift conclusion to solving the problem is so vastly far from the groups mission statement, then this group doesn't even stand for what they claim to be. True Leadership at its best. These parents do not represent many of us and that needs to be remembered.
Laura Mesner March 15, 2011 at 11:07 PM
Mark....FYI....Although the group of parents in blue shirts is relatively new, the "leader's swift conclusion " that you refer to is the product of at least 4 years of research and sitting through countless hours of school board meetings over the years, when NOBODY else was there. She is probably one of the most well informed parents in the district, whether you agree with her or not. Our goal is not to be popular, it's to be the voice of our children, the customers in the district.
Laura Mesner March 15, 2011 at 11:08 PM
Mark, also, where was your voice last night?
Amy March 16, 2011 at 12:58 AM
FYI - per a question I possed to Dr. Andres, a new contract is NOT automatically retroactive. It is a decision that the board makes with a vote. My stated opinion to her was to let them keep their money up to the point of the contract. We are expecting big (yet reasonable) things from this contract and there is no point in pouring salt on a wound. If you notice, when the budget is given it is given as though the teacher salaries are already spent and not noted to be recovered. Please no negative comments from folks unless you have personally gotten out there and tried to help make a difference. Judging from the sidelines seems a bit unfair.
Judy Herman March 16, 2011 at 03:34 AM
While imposing isn't automatically retroactive, the Board's budget and deficit reduction plan is based upon retroactivity. So, assuming the Board imposes without retroactivity, what alternate plans does the Board have NOW to address the budget deficit? The answer is, NONE. (The recent coffee talks relate to brainstorming for the future). If the Board imposes with retroactivity, this will undoubtedly cause bitter economic and emotional consequences for our teachers. Remember this is a one year contract and we get to start this acrimonious process over again for next year. Also noteworthy is that the Board proposal that would be imposed includes the costly MESSA health insurance coverage. Although the MESSA issue may be news to enlightened parents, it is in no way news to the Board that has completely failed to recognize the fact that we simply can't afford the MESSA diamond coverage in the face of the deficit. So, perhaps the other questions that taxpayers should ask are why has our Board acquiesced in MESSA coverage for years and why has our Board majority embarked on a course to impose continuation of this costly health insurance without consideration of fiscally responsible alternatives?
Theresa March 16, 2011 at 01:35 PM
Laura, have you talked with the school board about whether or not they have looked into alternative insurance? It was my understanding that the school board had a discussion with the WBEA and found that MESSA was the most cost effective for THE DISTRICT. I also believe that all of the offers given to the school board the WBEA included change in the insurance so that the members (teachers) will help offset the cost of insurance. Furthermore, it is not the MEA who is doing the negotiating, it is the WBEA who has no stake in MESSA. I appreciate all of the facts that you have collected, but a service industry where students are involved there is MUCH more involved than just numbers...it is about people.
Laura Mesner March 16, 2011 at 02:33 PM
The WBEA may be sitting at the negotiating table, but MEA is most certainly defining the scope of their position and what they can and cannot accept. It's my understanding (anyone, feel free to correct me if I'm mis-informed) that the WBEA is currently waiting for MEA feedback on the most recent proposal. In regard to "members (teachers) will help offset the cost of insurance"...yes, both offers include this. My point is that the teachers won't be able to afford even a percentage of the policy that is in place today.
Laura Mesner March 16, 2011 at 02:38 PM
Oh, I forgot to address the point about the Board and MESSA...my understanding is that the board has tried to get competetive bids from other insurance administrators, however MESSA makes it alomost impossible for other companies to come up with an apples-to-apples comparison by witholding (illegally) information about actual claims that have been filed by its participants on a school by school basis. Also, one of the MEA tactics when school boards start talking about dropping MESSA is to threaten strikes and/or board member recalls. Check this out: http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_ID=616
Trevor March 16, 2011 at 03:28 PM
The point of the WBFSU is advocate action and to represent the position of the stakeholders (families, parents and most of the children). The financial state of the district is not disputed or debatable. It's a sad state of affairs and is not going to improve in the short term. The position of the MEA (notice I did not say teachers) is ridiculous. I would be embarrassed to be in the position of the teachers demanding more (financially) and putting it on the credit card of the district. The MEA should have informed their stakeholders that imposing was a possibility and a give back was part of that. MESSA is the the most cost effective? That doesn't even pass the red face test. C'mon. For the teacher complaining about 36% pay cut... my advice to you is quit. Go get a better paying job that offers you all of the pay, benefits and security you require. Mark- I second Laura's comment, but I will go one step further. If you are a WB parent, YOU are a huge part of the problem. Instead of initiating action in this crisis, you post an attack on an internet news site of those who want to fix the district before sending their children to private school. You position assumes you are happy riding this one right into the ground.
Missy March 16, 2011 at 09:57 PM
Trevor, why do you say that you represent "most" of the children? As a teacher, I represent ALL of the children. While I stand with my fellow colleagues, I stand for what is fair for all-including you (as a parent). Your advice to those concerned about losing 36% of their income is to quit? My total income over the past 5 years has increased 4% and I started at Step 1. We work tirelessly for these children, in which case our own families are sacrificed. Teachers have given to the district's deficit in past years and will continue to give but I'm not able to take from the bank and my child's bank to cover 100% of the problem. That is not fair for anyone.
Chad March 17, 2011 at 12:23 AM
I would hardly call the ncpa.org site listed above as a reputable source for facts concerning MESSA or the MEA. They are widely recognized as a right wing think tank who cites information on their page from another right wing think tank, the Mackinac Center for Public policy. Their anti-union agenda is no secret to anyone.
A west Bloomfield Resident March 17, 2011 at 04:47 PM
Trevor, Thank you so much for the advice on quitting..I am looking into it as are over 150 of the staff in West Bloomfield. As a West Bloomfield teacher we are sure to be at the top of any district's list. So Trevor, you will have a new staff of young teachers with no experience teaching your children. That does not sound like a poor idea except they will be in the bottom rankings of pay compared to other districts in Oakland County. The pay would be slightly below Pontiac's and well below those better districts like Southfield, River Rouge and everyone else. But as you say Trevor you get what you pay for...
A west Bloomfield Resident March 17, 2011 at 04:55 PM
One more thing Trevor.....did you look at the link I provided above? Would it surprise you that administration added perks to cover part of the 10% cut? Would it surprise you to know the district gave away over $500,000 to 8 administrators? Would it surprise you that a person making 170,000 per year needs a second retirement account with $10,000 per year? Would it surprise you to know that the administration contract has more perks compared to neighboring districts? This might be a place for the public to look into and see if things are really as they seem.
Lisa March 19, 2011 at 03:25 AM
The current "ideas" that the district have put forth both include retroactive paycuts, one retroactive to December, the other to the start of the 2010-2011 school year. Regarding MESSA, they are a non-profit. The reserves that they have are put back into the insurance plans to offset health care costs for the next year. Their rate increases have averaged less than half of the industry average, less than 6%. The proposals offered by the WBEA include increased deductibles and high cost prescription coverage that significantly brings down the cost of healthcare premiums by as much as $300 per month per member. I believe that it is of the utmost importance to make sure that you are presenting documented facts when speaking in a public forum, especially when you are talking about people who stand to lose what the members of the WBEA are being asked to give up.
Christy Forhan March 21, 2011 at 12:48 PM
- Public Act 106 is one of the primary reasons school boards in Michigan can NOW consider alternatives to MESSA. PA106 requires a BOE to solicit at least 4 competitive bids for their employee groups (if the group has at least 100 members--which exempts all the support groups in WB, I assume). In addition, PA106 compels MESSA to release claims data and changed the way they pool their members. Prior to PA106, MESSA was not required to release claims data. That meant that even if a BOE wanted to bid out H/C insurance, they had no experience data to provide to the bidders. No self-respecting insurance company (and certainly no company we would want to do business with) could develop a bid w/out actual claims experience. The attached article does a great job of reviewing PA106. Read it all the way to the end. It's good info. NOTE: PA106 was passed in the fall of 2007. http://www.nctq.org/nctq/research/1201882686045.pdf - The article that summarizes PA106 http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(n5510za5va31n155z1wf4sav))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=2007-SB-0418 - The history of the actual bill
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