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Published: Friday, 9/19/2008

Swanton teachers, board may have a deal


SWANTON The Swanton Local Board of Education has reached a tentative deal with its teachers union and is ending preparations for a strike.

Members of the Swanton Education Association which represents 88 teachers and other district employees met yesterday afternoon to review an agreement that has been approved by their bargaining team.

A vote is expected at a meeting planned for 3:30 p.m. Monday.

The union s bylaws require a two-day waiting period between the presentation of an offer and ratification.

Details of the agreement will be released if the contract is approved by the school board later Monday evening, union officials said.

Swanton teachers arrived at yesterday s meeting wearing yellow shirts that said, Swanton Teachers Deserve a Fair Contract.

Union members refused to comment on the situation, adhering to a media blackout agreed to by both parties earlier this week.

In a written statement, however, the district said it was ending all crisis activities.

We look forward to working together to promote a positive educational environment for our children as we move toward an excellent rating, the statement said.

Salary and contract language have been stumbling blocks for the district since negotiations began in April.

After teachers on Aug. 18 authorized their bargaining team to issue a strike notice, district officials began making preparations to staff classrooms with temporary workers.

At that time, the union took a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Paulette Baz.

No progress had been made when the teachers contract expired Aug. 31.

While details of negotiations have been withheld, the district said in a news release in August that the union was demanding raises of 4 percent.

Union officials would not confirm those numbers, but said they were trying to recover some lost programs and wages that were sacrificed when the district underwent a financial crisis in 2003. About 20 teachers were laid off that school year as the district attempted to remedy a $1.1 million budget deficit.

Union officials said that the discrepancy between their demands and the board of education s offer was 1.75 percent. They contended that the district which carried over $7.2 million, or 57 percent of their total budget last year was in a financial position to meet their demands.

District officials said that the anticipated reduction of their income tax from 1.25 percent to 0.75 percent up for partial renewal Nov. 4 necessitated fiscal caution.

Treasurer Cheryl Swisher said that even if the levy is renewed, declining revenues and increasing expenses could lead to a budget deficit by 2013. Each1 percent raise given to members of the teachers union would cost the district about $50,000, she said.

Members of the district s support staff union said progress with the teachers contract is encouraging. The union, which represents nine secretaries and teacher s aides, authorized its bargaining team to issue a strike notice of their own Sept. 8.

Union spokesman Carol Arvin said a date has not been set for federal mediation, but that a mediator had been selected. District officials refused to comment about progress with their support staff union.

Contact Angie Schmitt at:aschmitt@theblade.com or 419-724-6104.

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