MARQUETTE - At long last, it appears a contract dispute between Marquette Area Public Schools and its teachers may soon be over.
The two sides reached a tentative agreement Wednesday, just hours before open houses were scheduled to begin - open houses the teachers said they would not attend because requirements outlined in their current contract were not met first.
That statement led to a strong position taken by the Marquette school board, which approved a resolution Monday stating if the teachers did not attend the open houses, the board would consider it strike activity.
From left, Superior Hills Elementary School first-grade teacher Holly Muscoe shows new first-grade student Jack Pond, 6, his desk as older sister Ella, 8, and mom Breanna Pond look on. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
As a result of the TA, teachers did attend the open houses.
Both the Marquette Area Education Association and MAPS' central administration said no details of the tentative agreement would be released until both sides had ratified it, which could take several days.
MAEA President Erin LaValley said Wednesday the union needed to provide a copy of the TA to the entire union membership, which would then have to vote on it.
The school board can only ratify an agreement during a public meeting. Its next regular meeting is scheduled for Sept. 8.
"While the board is encouraged by the TA, we must still evaluate the details regarding the long-term affects on our budget," board President Rich Rossway said in an email. "The board has fought hard to represent the taxpayer first and foremost throughout this process, and we will remain committed to being fiscally responsible as the board evaluates the TA and its bottom-line impact on the district."
MAEA UniServ Director for Marquette and Alger counties Stu Skauge said this morning it felt "awesome" to have a final agreement in sight.
"I think both sides are really worn out because we've had a lot of meetings and a lot of anguish. There was a lot of emotion in this whole ordeal," Skauge said. "I'm really hoping that both sides will ratify this agreement. I think it's a fair agreement and we need to move and get the school year started and get teachers back to doing what they love to do best."
Marquette schools open houses, which took place at each elementary school in the district, were vibrant events, with teachers excited at the news the agreement had been reached and happy to be back in their schools.
Superior Hills Elementary School Principal Mike Woodard, who on Monday offered to resign so the district could use the cost of his salary and benefits to bring the two sides closer to an agreement, said he could feel the change almost immediately after the news was released.
"It's positive," Woodard said. "You could feel the love and the change. I can't thank the board and the union enough."
The atmosphere was certainly a positive one inside the walls of Superior Hills, where it was all smiles for teachers and families as kids were introduced to their new classrooms - and teachers - for the first time.
Superior Hills first-grade teacher Holly Muscoe said she was happy to be back in the classroom.
"This just feels right," she said. "It's exciting to see the kids."
Over at Graveraet Elementary School, students and parents got their first look at the building following renovations that made it more user-friendly for younger students.
Guided tours were being given by Marquette Senior High School cheerleaders and the hallways there were packed with people chatting about the upcoming year.
Some parents were also congratulating teachers on the tentative agreement.
"I'm excited to be here to meet the families and students," said physical education and technology teacher Meghan McCarthy.