NEGAUNEE - A glitch in contract language has resulted in the Negaunee Education Association and the Negaunee school board going back to the bargaining table.
A one-year contract, which the NEA approved earlier this month and the board OK'd at Monday's meeting, was found to contain language in conflict with state law.
Now, both parties are moving forward as if no contract is in place due to a disagreement between the NEA and the board over the disputed language, which involves state law governing prohibited subjects of bargaining.
"We can't sign something our people haven't ratified," NEA President Rae Ann Loy said.
The contract the board approved did not include language that is in conflict with the state's law, according to the district's legal representatives, the Thrun Law Firm of Lansing. The board approved its version of the agreement with the provision that a letter of understanding would be drafted between the board and the union stating that if a state ballot proposal concerning the right to collective bargaining is approved Nov. 6, the language will be added back in.
"The issue as I see it is the prohibited subjects of bargaining being in the contract when it's illegal," Negaunee Public Schools Superintendent Jim Derocher said. "That is the same approach the Michigan Association of School Boards is taking also with its members."
The conflict over the removed language comes not as much from the language itself, but from the way the teachers said it was removed from the agreement.
Loy said while the union was aware the board wished to remove the language in question, it was not actually removed until after the agreement had been ratified by the teachers, including the questioned language.
However, Derocher said the board had taken the stance that the language would be removed since opening negotiations in February.
"They knew what the intent of the board was at that time," Derocher said. "We (tentatively agreed to) an agreement. The board assumed all that language was out."
It hadn't been taken out of the agreement ratified by the teachers, though, which the union sent a copy of to the board Friday and a response indicating the difference in language was returned to the union.
"You can't approve a different TA than you agreed to," Loy said. "It was the eleventh hour that we were notified."
Loy said while similar issues have come up in other districts, school boards and unions have come to amicable agreements on the issue.
"We thought since we were doing this one-year extension, they were letting this go for the duration of that one year contract," Loy said.
A letter of understanding will have to be negotiated and approved by both parties, both Derocher and Loy said. Loy also said the NEA would be contacting representatives from the Michigan Education Association for advice.
Other provisions of the one-year agreement that were agreed to included an 80-20 percent split cost of health care, a 2 percent increase to base pay for teachers, an off-schedule payment to teachers on Nov. 30 determined by student count numbers and a contract end date of June 30, 2013.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.