MARQUETTE - Marquette Area Public Schools teachers took their case straight to the public Wednesday evening with a town hall-style meeting meant to showcase their side of a yearlong contract dispute with the district.
Outlining their position on negotiations the Marquette Area Education Association has engaged in with the MAPS board and central administration, MAEA chief negotiator Fred Cole said it's about offering the teachers a fair contract without bankrupting the district.
Up to this point, the district has said it cannot afford what the teachers are asking for.
Cole said the MAEA disagrees.
He told the crowd gathered inside the Ramada Inn in downtown Marquette the district has for the last decade been projecting large budget deficits that turn out to be smaller than predicted or not exist at all.
"That prediction has pretty much been there all the time - the sky is falling, it's going to be bad - but it hasn't been true," Cole said. "We're in the black and that's good."
The plan going forward
Open houses scheduled within the Marquette school district will have one important component missing this year - Marquette teachers.
According to Toni Landick, chairwoman of the Marquette Area Education Association's crisis committee, open houses scheduled for next Wednesday will not be attended by teachers.
The teachers and district have been deadlocked for months as they attempt to negotiate a contract. The school year will likely begin with no signed agreement.
He also said Marquette schools, as a percentage of its overall budget, spends less money on its teachers' benefits and salaries than most other school districts in Marquette County.
Cole said at one point during negotiations, the district's and teachers' proposals were about $100,000 apart, a fraction of the overall package of roughly $16 million.
He said steps - pay increases based on years of service to the district - have been a sticking point for teachers because without them, their salaries won't keep up with the rate of inflation, further driving down take-home pay already impacted by state laws requiring teachers to pay more out of pocket for health insurance and retirement benefits.
A few people in the crowd called out questions during the meeting, asking for steps to be explained and looking for more information on the take-home pay of teachers.
After Cole discussed predicted budget shortfalls he said never came true, one woman in the crowd asked rhetorically "Can you imagine if you ran your house like that?"
"I think my deficits at my household are real," Cole said in response, earning a round of applause.
Cole urged people - supporters as well as opponents of the teachers - to contact MAPS Superintendent Bill Saunders or any of the school board members to voice their opinion on the contract issue.