Negotiations between the South Putnam School Corporation and the Classroom Teachers Association are causing some tension on one side.
High school teacher and CTA chief spokesperson Wayne Schuetter said CTA wanted to start negotiations with the board last November about the teachers' contracts, but they were informed that the board wanted to wait. Negotiations between the two groups did not start until April and since then, a total of 19 teachers had been notified of a reduction in force, with their job cut.
The reasoning for the RIF was due to the premise that the corporation was in need of financial relief.
South Putnam Supt. Bruce Bernhardt told the BannerGraphic recently that the number provided was inaccurate. According to Bernhadt, they also cut some staff members' hours who work extended days per year. Those members include guidance counselors and the agriculture teachers who work extra days in the summer.
According to Indiana law, school corporations must notify teachers a set number of days before the end of the school year if they are going to be on the RIF list. South Putnam gives all teachers 45 days notice of being put on the list.
Teachers are put on the list after a school corporation has looked at what they need to do for the next year. The corporation looks at where they think the health insurance is heading, the numbers they need for a department or class, and the number of children they will have in the coming years.
But none of this is ever set in stone because situations may arise that might change the outcome, such as an influx of families to the district, or a large number of move outs.
Bernhardt said they recall teachers from the list when they have a better idea as to how the numbers are turning out. The corporation is saving money because "insurance did not go up this year, we are not going to hire a second administrator, and we had another teacher retire from the high school in the past month," Bernhardt said.
As it stands, only one teacher on the list has either not found a job elsewhere or has not been recalled.
During the contract negotiation process, both sides need to come up with counters so they can discuss them and work toward some type of agreement. While one side believes they are doing everything in their power to work to an agreement, the other side believes that not enough is being done.
At one negotiation session, the board asked CTA to come up with a new insurance plan for the teachers. Schuetter said, "We brought in different [insurance] carriers to bring proposals. These could have the potential of saving the board over $300,000."
CTA also would have newly hired teachers pay more on a different carrier and change drug prescription coverage. What they wanted was the board to give them some relief.
According to Schuetter, the board told them they could not have any relief, due to the undetermined financial condition of the corporation. While Bernhardt said that he could not discuss much of the negotiation process outside the negotiation room, he did say that they are trying to determine what the next step is through the whole package. "We haven't refused to look at things that will save money," he said.
Schuetter said his concern is that the board has to know the financial condition because the board had made several decisions in the past months in regard to money. Some of these decisions include putting those said number of teachers on the RIF list, raising the tax rate, and going into debt by more than $1 million to pay for the retirement of eight eligible administrators. While Bernhardt did not deny nor state the school was in debt due to this, he did explain that the state allowed them to sell $2.9 million in severance bonds to cover the unfunded liability in retirement.
The board had an agreement with the administrators that they would provide insurance for the retirees up to 10 years. Only three administrators have retired and not all of them will draw the complete 10 years of insurance.
Last year, the board offered $10,000 worth of insurance for a total of six years to the teachers. This was called the special budget plan, and only six teachers took part in it.
At this month's meeting, the board approved to purchase the remaining six days of a teacher, who had been employed prior to or during the 2003-04 school year. Before this meeting, there had been a disagreement about the issue. The teachers understood it to mean the board would buy back their remaining sick days after they retired, while the board believed they were only purchasing the sick days that went past 60.
In order to avoid any legal costs, the board voted to approve the purchase a teacher's remaining number sick days, below 60, upon retirement.
It is undetermined at this time whether or not these groups will come to an agreement or will have to go to an impasse. An impasse means that neither side can move forward in the negotiations and a third party meditator comes in to look over the negotiations and the contract.
Bernhardt said he is hoping they can continue with the negotiations and that the process will build a stronger relationship between the teachers and the board. He also said he is pleased to be working with hard working staff members.
"They deserve the best we can reasonably do," he said.