2007-08-09 / Front Page


Board, teachers okay 2-year pact
By Cheryl Holladay

It is finished!

The Houghton Lake Education Association and Houghton Lake Community Schools Board of Education have reached a contract agreement that will span the next two years. In a special meeting Monday night, the school board ratified a contract approved by the Houghton Lake Education Association Aug. 3.

Superintendent Pete Injasoulian said negotiations lasted from 2 p.m. Aug. 2 until after 3 a.m. the next day. While not all teachers were available to vote Friday, 65 out of 71 voiced their approval, he said.

The agreement came after months of ups and downs, including mediation, fact-finding, a letter of agreement in 2006, claims of unfair labor practices on both sides, an imposed contract the board initiated in February after declaring an impasse, and a general feeling of angst within the community. The previous contract had expired in June, 2005.

The board approved the new contract Monday after meeting in a closed session with the school district's attorney.

What's in it

Thrun Law Firm Attorney Eric Delaporte said while the contract was approved Monday, the final version still needs to be typed up and will be available soon. In the meantime the Resorter, through a Freedom of Information Act request, obtained a copy of the tentative agreement (contained in the contract), which includes:

• All tentative agreements made to date.

• Insurance contributions by the board were capped at $1,125 per month for 2007-08 and $1,157.63 per month for 2008-09, and teachers will keep their Michigan Education Special Services Association policies.

• Teachers with credit hours accumulated over and above their master's degrees will receive $50 per credit, but will not be paid for future credits earned.

• If the state per-pupil subsidy (currently at $7,085) increases to $7,439 for the 2008-09 year and the district's blended student count reaches 1,738 or more, each teacher will receive a one-time lump sum payment of $200 payable by June 30, 2009.

• Each party shall withdraw all unfair labor practice charges currently filed and all current grievances arising from the bargaining process.

• The salary schedule is divided into four categories: Bachelor's degree, bachelor's plus 20 credits, bachelor's plus 30 credits, and master's degree. The pay ranges from $29,450 at Step 1 for a bachelor's degree to $45,631 at Step 9 for a bachelor's degree plus 30 credits, to $65,499 at Step 27 and up for a master's degree. The reduction in the top salary step represents about an 8% decrease from the previous contract.

Deleted was language allowing for longevity pay. Service shall be defined as years of service on the active payroll of the Houghton Lake district.

In a written statement (prepared by both parties as agreed upon per Mediator Tom Kreis' recommendation), Board President Dave Harned, HLEA President Anjanette Rusmisel and Superintendent Injasoulian briefly explained the two parties have reached a twoyear agreement. The statement, dated Aug. 6, said in part: "We look forward to working together for the benefit of our students, school employees, and the school district. With this task completed, we can now fully focus on providing the very best educational experiences in all respects for your children, our students."

Limiting their responses, Injasoulian, Harned and Rusmisel spoke briefly to the press after the written statement was issued.

"Every time we went in there [to negotiations] we thought it was gonna be the day," Rusmisel said of the bargaining process.

Harned said with the new contract agreement, they can "get the healing started."

Injasoulian told the Resorter in a phone interview Tuesday that all court proceedings are no longer an issue.

"The good news is we got a contract and we don't have to go to court," he said. "We oughta be ringing bells today."

Director of the Bureau of Employment Relations Ruthanne Okun confirmed that the contract settlement pre-empted a series of strike hearings that were to begin Monday before the Michigan Employment Relations Commission in Lansing. She said charges have been dropped and the hearings cancelled.

Following an investigation by Injasoulian, the board had agreed to subpoena 24 teachers to MERC to determine if a strike had occurred May 3 when 20 of Collins Elementary Schools' 29 1/2 teachers were absent.

Parents may be happy to learn the contract also contains a calendar for the 2007- 08 year. The first day of school for students is Sept. 5, with teachers starting Sept. 4. There will be 181 days of school.

"My goal right now is to get school started," Injasoulian said. "The best thing we can do is just get the healing process started."

Injasoulian also announced Monday a tentative agreement with the support staff has been reached and he expected the Education Support Personnel Association to vote on it later this week. A contract with bus drivers was previously approved last February.

Resignation regret

While the board unanimously ratified the teachers' contract Monday, not all members were present.

In a letter dated July 23, board secretary Tanna Stuck resigned her position.

Injasoulian read her resignation letter, which said in part, "I find myself out of step with the rest of the board."

In a turn-about, Injasoulian said Stuck has already submitted an application for the board position. Stuck, who recently had a death in the family, told the Resorter in a phone interview Tuesday that she had changed her mind the next day.

"I counted to 10 instead of sleeping on it," she said.

Harned said because the resignation was signed by Stuck and effective immediately the position will be publicly posted.

Board applicants must apply by Aug. 17 and be ready to interview by Aug. 20. If the board does not appoint a replacement, the COOR Intermediate School District Board has the authority to do so.

In the meantime, board member Ron Duquette was appointed as acting secretary.

The board also planned a retreat for Sept. 29-30, but the location has not been deter-

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