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Published: Saturday, 2/26/2005

Teachers reject 2nd contract offer from district

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - Members of the union representing teachers and other classroom professionals at Bedford Public Schools have rejected another proposed contract with their employer, the second tentative agreement rejected in less than a month.

Bedford Education Association President Colleen Jan said her members voted 201-91 to reject the new proposal, which included 1 percent raises this year and next, new long-term disability insurance, and a school year shortened by 4 1/2 days.

Those provisions were identical to a contract rejected at the end of January, 160-144.

In addition to those provisions, teachers this time rejected contract sweeteners from the district that included an additional personal day off, reimbursement of insurance deductibles through July 1 of this year, and up to 20 extra days of pay upon retirement, if certain conditions were met.

Mrs. Jan said her members still have issues, both economic and noneconomic, that aren't being addressed.

"I think the members tried to send a message with the first vote, and that message apparently fell on deaf ears," she said. "I have teachers at one end of the salary scale whose children qualify for free and reduced lunches, and teachers on the other end who are afraid to retire."

Michigan law makes it very difficult for teachers to strike, imposing heavy personal fines in the event of a work stoppage. And Mrs. Jan said her members were made keenly aware that the school board and the district's administration might put a harder edge on their negotiation strategy in the event of a second rejection.

"It appears to [union members] that they feel they don't have much to lose. We don't feel we're respected," Mrs. Jan said. "The raise that we're looking at wouldn't even buy lunch in the school cafeteria each day. I think if they had offered a bit more in the raise, left our insurance alone, this thing would have passed."

Acting Superintendent Jon White said he was disappointed by the second rejection. "After the first tentative agreement was rejected, the district worked very hard to respond to concerns that were identified by the [union]."

Mr. White said he believes the administration may be heading in the wrong direction if the larger rejection of the proposed contract was indicative of how the district's teachers feel.

"I would assume we are [heading in the wrong direction] because we had two tentative agreements from the [union]. We negotiate with the [union's] bargaining committee, and they agreed with what we agreed to," Mr. White said.

Bedford teachers have been working under their previous contract, which expired in July, 2004. That contract called for a 190-day school year, while both rejected labor pacts would have sliced the year to 185 1/2 days.

"What this means is that we're back to the drawing board as far as the [school] calendar is concerned. We'll go back to June 14 as our last day of school," the acting superintendent said.

The school board is scheduled to hold its regular monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Monroe Road Elementary School.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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