Bremen teachers' contract shelved for now

BREMEN — Teachers at the Bremen School Board meeting last Tuesday hoped to have approved a tentative contract they had reviewed with the school superintendent. What they found instead was a decision to table the agreement between the Bremen Educators Association (BEA) and the Bremen Public Schools for “further study” by the board.
Jack Jordan moved to table the tentative contract agreement between the BEA and BPS for further study, with Jill Hassel seconding the motion after teachers — including BEA Negotiations Committee Chairperson Rhonda McIntyre and members Lana Mark, Janet Davis and Lisa Langdon — had voiced their opinions and concerns of how the matter was handled.
“It is considered bargaining in bad faith if one party fails to recommend the agreement to their members, either the Board of Education or the teachers’ bargaining unit,” McIntyre said. 
The teachers have been without a current contract since June 30, 2009.  
“So we have been without a contract almost two years,” McIntyre said. “So we are not asking for a four-year contract. We have been in contract negotiation since 2009, but we signed the tentative agreement on Dec. 16, 2010.”
McIntyre went on to say that when meeting with Superintendent of Schools Russ Mikel in December, the BEA recommended the contract to its members and ratified the tentative agreement. The BEA feels that Mikel acted in bad faith in failing to recommend the agreement to the School Board of Trustees at their recent meeting.
While the BEA agrees with Mikel that these are uncertain financial times in the state, “having a contract settlement can only lesson the stress and uncertainty felt in the Bremen Public Schools,” noted McIntyre, who was disappointed in the board’s decision.
Mikel said that a tentative agreement is “not an official agreement until the teachers ratify and the school board votes to approve the agreement.”
The superintendent further clarified that the tentative agreement came prior to the state Department of Education sharing its legislative proposals. 
“The State Superintendent, Tony Bennett, and the Executive Director of the Superintendent’s Association, John Ellis, conducted a webinar that explained the legislative proposals for the current session,” Mikel explained in an e-mail. “The proposals have some significant impact on collective bargaining and contract provisions. The recommendation from the DOE is not to agree to a multi-year contract based on the proposed legislative items. We are still in uncertain times and we need to be very cautious.
Mikel further clarified, “Normally the state statute overrides anything in the master contract, but it was clarified that any agreements will be honored through the terms of the master contract. That is the reason for my recommendation to the school board. This changes the conditions where a multi-year contract could cost the district money.”
School board members Hassel and Jack Jordan were particularly concerned about approving the contract without having detailed information about it when it was brought to the board for approval.
“It’s brand new to me. I didn’t know there was anything formal on the table,” said Hassel.
Jordan agreed.
“I just found out about this tonight,” Jordan said. “We want to make sure that we have the money to cover the increments. At this point, I don’t know if we can do that.”
McIntyre added, “With all due respect, you give him (Mikel) the power to negotiate with us. We signed memorandums of understanding so they are clear.”
Mark noted how they had signed the agreement in “good faith” and that they would have preferred to have a lot of things in the contract that they did not add, but that their major concern was to reestablish BPS as a team.
“We heard we used to be a team. This was our chance,” said Mark.
The decision was tabled with the board particularly interested in what kind of funding will be available from the state for schools in the coming years. The agreement would have been a four-year agreement through June 2014, according to the superintendent’s office.