TEMPERANCE - Representatives from the teachers' union and the school board at Bedford Public Schools met with a state mediator last week in what is beginning to look like a repeat of the contentious bargaining that stymied the school district nearly three years ago.
The one-day mediation session did not result in a new contract for the district's approximately 300 members of the Bedford Education Association, which represents Bedford's teaching staff. Administration officials said they remain "optimistic" and that talks are ongoing, but admit that they have limited resources from which to draw an economic solution that will placate its largest employee group.
"I don't think anybody on either side of the table wants to go through what this community went through the last time," said Wes Berger, Bedford's assistant superintendent for human resources. "We have an extremely talented group of teachers. They work hard. But with the economy the way it is in Michigan right now, it's hard to give them the compensation that they deserve."
Key issues in the talks continue to be monetary issues such as pay rates and insurance premiums. The district was successful in convincing two of its smaller unions, those representing building administrators and custodial staff, to switch to a less expensive health care plan that is also administered by the Michigan Education Association.
If district officials are successful in switching all of Bedford's employees to the new plan, interim Superintendent Jon White said Bedford would save "hundreds of thousands of dollars" annually on premium payments.
In return for their agreement, the district provided its administrator's union with a school calendar shortened by two days and a 1 percent raise
in the first year of its two-year agreement. Any increase in the contract's second year would be based on a formula that takes into account the amount of money the district will receive from the state.
Colleen Jan, president of the education association, said that her members deserve to earn as much as teachers elsewhere in Michigan. While she recognizes the district may be in tough financial times, she believes the money does exist locally to reach an agreement.
"We're not asking for much," she said.
The negotiations this year have been generally quieter than they were at this time three years ago, when teachers, who were working without a contract at the time, were conducting informational pickets outside of school board meetings. But Mrs. Jan said she wouldn't entirely dismiss returning to that public strategy again this year if a deal continues to allude the Bedford Educational Association.
At last week's mediation session, the union parked a large camper in the parking lot outside of the school's administration building, to use as a caucus room and as a visual reminder that the union does not yet have a contract four months after its last labor agreement expired.