We would like to congratulate the voters of the Marquette Area Public School district for overwhelmingly approving the request for the millage renewal on the ballot this week. Having a strong school district is very important for our community. If this millage renewal had not been approved it could have had a devastating impact on the MAPS schools.
Now that the voters have shown their support, it is up to the MAPS school board and administration to regain the confidence of the people in the district by cleaning up their act and operating in a more transparent and professional manner.
We are still of the opinion that Marquette Area Public Schools operated last year without a contract with the teachers.
We believe the district violated Public Act 54 by paying steps to teachers who had no contract with the district and also violated several educational reforms approved by the governor in June 2011, specifically those concerning prohibited items of bargaining.
There are three major concerns relating to last year's contract fiasco.
First, in our opinion, there was no signed contract between MAPS and the MEA.
Secondly, the board, at least for a short time, also agreed there was no contract because they told the MEA if they did not sign the contract by May 1, the district would stop paying step pay increases.
The third concern is the board did not follow up on its decision to stop paying step increases and instead decided to file a charge of an unfair labor practice against the MEA because the union refused to sign a contract that included state mandated language.
The Mining Journal tendered a Freedom of Information Act request recently to ask for a copy of the signed master agreement (contract) between the district and the MEA.
That request was denied on the grounds that no such document exists. That really was not a surprise to us because that is what we were saying all along: That there was no signed contract.
We also used the Freedom of Information Act process to ask for documentation regarding the unfair labor practice charge that the board authorized the administration to pursue.
The response to that request came back saying the request was denied on the grounds that no such document exists.
If all this sounds confusing don't feel bad because it is also confusing to us. The only thing that seems clear to us is that you can't believe the school board will follow through with any of the comments or actions they claim they will take.
How can the public have any confidence in a school board that never follows through on anything they say they are going to do?
The school board may not have been responsible for the initial mistake of not having the contract signed. That may have been the administration's responsibility, but the school board has known about the error since it came up at a meeting in March. Since then, the onus was put in its hands to correct these errors and that never happened.
We had hoped the school board would follow through with the action to discontinue paying step increases if the contract was not signed by May 1.
This way the board could have shown good faith in complying with state law. We felt it would be better to self report the error than to wait for someone from the state to go after the board for breaking state law.
We are also disappointed in the Michigan Attorney General's office for not enforcing state law. The Attorney General's office has all the documentation concerning this issue and it has not taken any action as of this time.
The Michigan Education Association can use this situation in Marquette as precedent setting for future negotiations in the state because its Marquette chapter thumbed its nose at the state in refusing to sign a contract with new language legislated by state government.
It is our opinion that by not taking any action, the Attorney General's office is telling the MEA that it doesn't need to follow state law in future negotiations because it won't take any legal action against the union even if it does break the law.
We wonder how the lawmakers that passed the new language included in Public Act 54 feel about the fact that no one in the state is willing to enforce the laws that they legislated?
What is clear to us is that even if the state won't take action regarding this issue we would like to see the current administration and school board follow state law and make sure that the contract fiasco that happened last year does not happen again this year.
The voters have supported the millage renewal request from MAPS. Now it is MAPS' job to show its constituents that it will regain their trust by learning from the mistakes made last year and operating in a more professional and transparent manner.
It would be nice to see the school board actually make a statement and then follow through by actually taken the action that it says it will take.