By Diana Bowley of the News Staff - DEXTER - A teachers' union is urging SAD 46 residents to tell school board members they should settle on a contract, but the bargaining appeared Wednesday to remain in a stalemate. Newspaper advertisements by SAD 46 Education Association ask residents to call their school board members and "tell them to accept our proposal and settle now."
Driving home the point, the ads contain board members' names and telephone numbers.
"It is possible the ads are having an effect other than what was intended," SAD 46 board chairman Melvin Johnson said this week. He said he had received some calls, but most were sympathetic to the board's position.
But Ted Nokes, the association's chief negotiator, said the response he has received from the ads has been positive.
"I'm sure there are people who are unsympathetic to what we're trying to do," he said.
The union and board of directors are at odds over salaries and health benefits for last year and this year. Efforts to resolve the issues have included mediation and a presentation to a fact-finding panel, which offered an advisory opinion.
While the teachers' union supported the panel recommendation, directors rejected it, so the dispute is headed for arbitration.
While both sides agree with a proposed 3 percent salary increase for each of the two contract years with no additional step increases added to the salary scale, there is no provision in the board's plan for retroactive pay, according to Nokes.
Art Jette, chief negotiator for SAD 46 directors, said the board has offered the association several proposals, all of which have been rejected, including a handful of new proposals offered last week.
"It appears that they're not willing to entertain any other position," he said.
Not so, said Nokes. "We did not come with a mind-set to flatly reject any offer they put on the table; we want to settle this as much as they do," he said of last week's offers. "Both sides are very close. It wouldn't take much to make a deal."
The directors see it differently. Because employees in the other three unions in the district, as well as administrators, have agreed to pay more of their health insurance, directors reason that the teachers' union should do the same in an effort to reduce costs, according to Jette.
The district's health insurance contribution level "is way over and above" what any other school district in the region pays, he said.
"Basically, we've been 10 years trying to move the teachers in the direction we've accomplished with everybody else," Jette said Monday. "I know that eventually there will be a settlement, but we're going to continue to work for a settlement that's fair to all constituents - students, teachers and communities that support our school."
The big problem lies with the difference in insurance plans, according to Nokes.
The district pays 87 percent of the Anthem-Blue Cross premiums for teachers, but wants to reduce that to 80 percent of premium costs, he said. The cost of family premium coverage has increased about 140 percent over the past 10 years, according to Jette.
Nokes said the association accepted the fact-finding panel's recommendation that the teachers' union members pay more of the premium of the standard plan starting Sept. 1, 2004.
The problem, he said, is that the district wants teachers to agree to substantial decreases in their insurance benefits by accepting a plan different from what they now have, he said.
For example, Nokes said, his contribution to a family insurance premium would more than double under the fact-finding's standard plan while it would more than triple under the board's Choice Plus plan.
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