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Hannibal Union: We Offered a Salary Freeze

[UPDATE BELOW, AT END OF ORIGINAL STORY]

Hannibal’s teachers’ union offered to take no pay increase for the next school year, according to a letter from union leaders to members.

The letter adds context to Board of Education President Matt Henderson’s comment last week that the union rejected the district’s demand for no increase in personnel costs.

According to the letter, which was sent by the union’s negotiating team (multiple copies of which were forwarded to Oswego County Today.com), the union offered in March to accept no salary increases in the 2011-12 school year “with the exception that grad hours, steps, Masters, longevities, etc. which would still be paid since they were earned credits and time,” the letter said.

At last week’s budget workshop, district financial official Nancy Henner explained that step and longevity items would cost about $10,000.

The union also asked for a two year salary extension of its contract in the March proposal.

The letter continues:

“In a letter dated March 24, 2011, the Board flatly rejected the entire proposal indicating they were seeking an “absolute freeze” with no increases on any monetary items.

The Board requested a written response to their inquiry no later than April 5 at 4:00 PM regarding our decision to accept their “absolute zero” proposal. On April 4, the HFA negotiating team sent a second proposal to the District. In this proposal, we again stipulated our position to consider a zero per cent [0%] increase for next year with the earned credits and time being paid. For the 2 year extension, we asked the District to make us a fair offer for the remaining years.

At the April 6 Budget Meeting, the District again turned down our efforts to help them in these difficult times. Therefore, we will now have to go through the formal negotiations process to achieve a new contract for upcoming years.”

The district, one of the ten poorest in all of New York State, is in a legitimate financial crisis. Cuts in state aid that fell disproportionately on poorer schools hit Hannibal very hard. Even after some aid was restored in the final state budget, Hannibal faces a deficit of more than $500,000. That number represents the cost of keeping all programs and people at the current year’s level, meaning that the deficit does not account for any salary increases for next year.

It would require a tax increase of more than 7.5% to close the deficit without tapping district reserves. Each 1% of salary increase would add $150,000 to the deficit, requiring another 2.5% tax increase to cover it.

Administrators, at the board’s direction, outlined a plan of ever-worsening cuts to programs and staff to cover a range of possible deficits. Covering the current deficit entirely through cuts would cost the district its entire sports program while doing heavy damage to art and music programs, among other cuts.

Board members angrily denounced the teachers’ union at a public meeting last week. It caused a stalemate; board members could not win a majority for any plan to set a tax levy for next year even though the deficit is at its lowest possible amount. Because the budget was built with no salary increases included, the deficit can only get larger.

The board meets Wednesday for its regular monthly meeting, but the budget is not on the agenda. Board members set Thursday, April 21 as the date for a meeting to adopt a budget. That’s the day before the state’s legal deadline for a budget. At least one board member, Henderson, was angry enough that he wondered what would happen if the board defied the state and refused to approve a budget.

UPDATE TO ORIGINAL STORY:

Hannibal board President Matt Henderson called to amplify a point.

The district is seeking only a one-year deal because of the uncertainties in state funding.  The union’s counteroffer was for a three year contract, with no pay increase in the first year but with individual increases for longevity, advanced degrees and so on.  “It would be terrific if in 2011-12, our district could catch its breath, get our legs under us and start negotiating in 2012-13 with two and three year deals.  I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” Henderson said.  “There’s not a board member at that table that feels our staff should go three years without an increase in salary.”

Henderson also feels that the unions may be hurrying to lock in longer-term agreements because the Triborough Amendment is in danger of being repealed by the state Legislature.  The Amendment governs what happens when a public employee union contract expires.  It forces employers to continue to honor those elements of the contract that do not expire, such as step, longevity or educational pay increases.  School districts believe Triborough gives unions an advantage in negotiations while unions believe it prevents districts from stalling in negotiations.

[Disclosure: The writer is married to a member of the faculty in Hannibal and his late father retired from management there.]