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Teachers, board lay out their arguments

Teachers, board lay out their arguments
Teachers, board lay out their arguments
South Harrison school board attorney Buren Jones and teacher association representative Carol Mooney discuss ground rules Thursday with hearing officer Janet Land, an attorney from Carmel, before a fact-finding hearing last week at Corydon Central High School. (Photo by Randy West)

Teachers of the South Harrison Education Assoc. had what their spokesperson, Carol Mooney, described as ‘their day in court’ as contract negotiations were turned over Thursday to fact-finding at the Corydon Central High School Auditorium.
Negotiations began Aug. 20, 2003, and failed to result in an agreement for such a duration that South Harrison found itself where, Mooney said, only ‘six, seven or eight’ of Indiana’s 297 school corporations end up each year.
Despite the long road to get there, fact-finding is not necessarily the end.
Whatever the decision of the fact-finder, it is not legally binding and does not have to be accepted by either party. It does, however, provide both the teachers and school board with an opportunity to be heard, and it will yield a report by an objective, third party.
Mooney, UniServ Director for the Indiana State Teachers Assoc., presented the case for the assocation before Janet L. Land, a Carmel attorney selected by the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board to be the fact-finder.
Land has served as an IEERB labor relations specialist, hearing examiner, fact-finder and mediator from 1984 through 2002.
Buren Jones, an attorney with Bose McKinney and Evans of Indianapolis, spoke on behalf of the South Harrison Community School Corp. Board of School Trustees.
Land spoke first, explaining her mission as fact-finder.
‘The purpose of fact-finding is to get a neutral, advisory opinion when two parties, for whatever reason, have not been able to reach an agreement,’ Land said.
‘The fact-finder doesn’t just ‘find facts,’ but endeavors to reconcile or conciliate differences in the parties’ opinions,’ she said.
Land said she will take into consideration memoranda of agreements; comparisons of wages and hours for comparable work; public interest; and the financial impact upon the school corporation.
The SHEA was given the opportunity to state its case first. Mooney turned the podium over to the association president, Evelyn Bell.
Bell accused the administration of stonewalling, dishonesty and misuse of funds. She said teachers aren’t in business for the money but deserve a fair contract, and, in the meantime, ‘will continue to be professionals and put the children first.’
SHEA Vice President Pam Carmichael elaborated on Bell’s assertions, previewing what was to come when Mooney returned to the podium to deliver a detailed and aggressive plea on the teachers’ behalf.
Mooney’s report emphasized three claims: South Harrison is involved in unfair labor practices; the pay and benefits are inequitable, and spending priorities are misplaced. The latter two were the focus of much of her presentation.
Comparing South Harrison with 11 other school corporations in the range between 165 and 186 teachers (Rushville was excluded because information was not immediately available), Mooney said South Harrison’s 176 teachers pay the most for a single insurance plan and second most for a family plan.
SHEA is asking for a three percent salary increase, at a cost to the corporation of about $87,000 per one percent, or a total cost of about $261,000, according to their figures. The corporation disagrees with those numbers, calculating the cost of a one percent increase at $98,525, or $295,575 for the requested three percent.
The average raise in Indiana is about 2.04 percent, but teachers at South Harrison say they are falling behind comparable school corporations and want to close some of that gap.
Among expenditures called into question by Mooney were:
‘ $81,593 salary and $13,000 benefits for a new assistant superintendent;
‘ paid-for health insurance for school board and administrators amounting to $248,677;
‘ a $287,000 concession stand;
‘ landscaping bills of as much as $7,000 per month;
‘ $75,000 to a temporary employment agency for substitute teachers;
‘ $20,000 in travel expenses last year for non-teachers.
Time and materials donated by teachers with no type of compensation amounted to $422,400 last year, according to SHEA figures.
Speaking for the school board, Jones attacked claims of administration stonewalling as he recounted a bargaining history during which he said an agreement was reached and later rejected by Bell, and another agreement failed a March ratification vote in a meeting for which SHEA refused to disclose attendance figures.
‘Who is responsible now for failing to get a contract settlement early?’ Jones said.
The corporation’s last offer prior to fact-finding included a 1.5 percent salary increase combined with a .5 percent stipend for 2003-2004 and a state average salary increase for 2004-2005. The corporation would absorb health insurance increases amounting to $340,000 over the two-year period.
The salary increase figures do not take into account individual pay increases teachers receive as they accumulate years of experience. Those ‘increment raises’ went to 61 percent of the corporation’s teachers this year, Jones said.
Jones made some comparisons of his own.
Contract hours call for teachers to work 7.5 hours each day for 185 days. The base salary is $30,103, and the ceiling for a teacher with a master’s degree and 20 years of experience is $52,988.
Adjusting those numbers to 2080 hours annually, those of full-time, year-round workers in Harrison County, Jones said the pay equates to $45,136 base salary and $79,435 maximum salary.
He compared that with Harrison County’s median household income of $49,496.
Jones’ comments stirred so much commotion in the audience that he requested the fact-finder bring order, which she did.
There were a number of misrepresentations or inequitable comparisons on both sides during the presentations.
Teachers routinely exceed contract hours and have adhered to them rigidly only recently as a negotiating tactic. Those hours represent the bare minimum they would work. Likewise, by adjusting teachers to 2080 hours annually, Jones assumed workers in Harrison County households average full-time hours annually.
Jones also failed to account for a disparity in education between the average Harrison County resident and an educator. His own figures presented to Land claimed that 21.4 percent of adults in the school district have less than a high school education. Teachers in the corporation have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.
Mooney made several references to riverboat revenue while making the case for a three percent raise, including money used for debt-service reductions. The debt-service allocations are irrelevant to wages and benefits at South Harrison.
‘It’s got nothing to do with education,’ Harrison County Council Chair Gary Davis said regarding those funds in a meeting earlier this year.
The payments are a means of using school corporations’ accounting systems to give county residents tax breaks proportional to property value. Corporations have no discretion in the use of those debt-service reduction funds. Other riverboat revenue has come with strings attached or verbal recommendations as to how the money should or should not be spent.
Also, expenditures such as the $287,000 concession stand do not come from an account that can be transferred to supplement wages and benefits, several administrative and legal sources said.
Those will likely be among points made in rebuttals that both sides are to file within 30 days of the hearing.