IRSD unions to vote on new contracts

Date Published: 
April 28, 2017

When the Indian River School District went to referendum in March, administrators said one potential way to save money was to renegotiate staff contracts.

More recently, within the Indian River Education Association, the teachers and the secretaries have given the go-ahead to renegotiate contracts, potentially spreading next year’s planned pay raise over the next few years instead.

And the school board has now approved the proposed changes, with the two union groups expected to vote on those changes by the end of April.

Why do it?

“Because we care about the district,” said IREA President J.R. Emanuele.

After the district approached the union groups with the request to consider reopening contract negotiations, the teachers and secretaries approved negotiations to begin, which took three full days before spring break. District and union representatives then took the new proposal to their respective groups.

The IRSD school board discussed the employee contracts during their most recent executive session but formally approved them in public session afterward. There was no public discussion.

The only dissenting vote came from Gerald “Jerry” Peden Jr., who did not offer comments on his vote during or after the meeting.

The teachers and secretaries were expected to vote on the proposal within a week.

Until the IREA members review the proposal, IRSD Director of Finance Jan Steele said she preferred not to discuss specific details.

During negotiations, everything, including the contract length, is up for debate, Steele said.

The teachers and secretaries both had one year left in a four-year contract. The new proposals are for three years and spread their intended raises over a broader time period.

Meanwhile, the district’s custodians said ‘No, thanks’ to renegotiating, since their three-year contract just began in 2016.

District paraprofessionals’ three-year contract was already scheduled to end this summer. Their negotiations will occur in May.

Union representatives said they were startled at a suggestion to cut more than 50 paraprofessional positions in favor of teacher positions — an idea the school board hasn’t publically discussed or voted on.

With dozens of educators standing behind her this week, employee Traci Makowski reminded the school board of the importance of paraprofessionals. By sheer number, she said, they are an extra set of eyes and hands helping teachers and students at all points in the day.

“We are now asking for your help to keep para jobs,” Makowski said, echoing a speech she had given in front of the board two weeks prior.

The employees’ salaries are paid with state and local funding. School districts receive state money based on student population. But administrators can supplement that with as much or as little local discretionary dollars as they want (or can negotiate).

Previous contract details may have contributed to IRSD’s sudden financial concerns and rapidly depleting financial reserves, which led to the need for the recently-passed current-expense referendum.

“The [previously] negotiated salary contracts — in my opinion, they weren’t [equal] percentages across the four years,” Steele said. “Last year was a larger percentage, and I think it used more of their carryover funds than was I think anticipated.”

For example, instead of having an even 5 percent raise every year, the teachers were entitled to raises of 4, then 7, then 4, then 5 percent, “so the larger percentage in one year took more of their reserves,” Steele suggested. “That’s totally my view looking at it.”

But much budget blame also fell on recent construction.

“We had cost overruns on construction that took more local money — like we used all the state money and had to use local money,” Steele said, alluding to the pricy and unexpected road and environmental requirements that were tacked on to state permits.

She emphasized again that “The money issues had nothing — have nothing — to do with the audit,” in which the Delaware Auditor of Accounts had in 2016 accused the district and its former CFO of some financial mismanagement and lacking financial policies.

In presenting this month’s Financial Position Report, Steele reported on the IRSD’s liquid funds to get through summer until it receives tax revenues in autumn.

“I’m projecting an available balance June 30 of approximately $5[.27] million. The other thing we project on there is the cost of one month local payroll, which is $2.5 million. Those are the figures the state looks at to determine the financial viability of districts.”