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Article published March 26, 2013
Butler pacts clarified
Tom DeGeorge, Meridian President, Butler Area Education Association
I take issue with the March 7 editorial, “Butler board should heed lessons from '09 contract.” The editorial stated that the last eight contracts have been early birds. The last actual early bird contract was in 2001. The last three contracts have not been early birds. The 2009 contract referred to in the editorial was an extension onto the existing contract. It did not take effect until the previous one was completed. The intent was to establish a fixed spending plan so that the district would know its expenses. It provided controlled labor and fringe-benefit costs. In 2011, the district and union agreed to open the contract to find ways together to save the district money. Through that joint effort, the district was able to save more than $2 million through contract concessions, supplemental freezes and a tripling of health care costs. Additional money was saved due to the union agreeing to replace permanent positions with long-term substitutes for the past two years. This agreement again saved the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor costs. Meanwhile, the current contract does not expire until 2015, but the final year's pay rates still must be decided. Concerning the request that teachers submit retirement intentions early, it was stated that the union refused this “reasonable offer.” I was asked if we would agree to an early letter of intent. I asked about an incentive. I was told no. That was the end of the request. No one ever asked to discuss this issue. I would have been more than happy to meet and discuss any suggestion from the board. No one offered. The teachers' raises alluded to in the editorial as being at about 4.5 percent do not apply to all teachers. I am at the top of the scale and received a .05 percent raise the first year and a 1 percent raise over the next three years. The average raise was 2.9 percent across the salary scale. When the subsequent retirees from the last two years were not replaced, the district saved an increase from the $2 million based on non-hires. The past three contracts had average raises of less than 3 percent when retirements are factored in — more savings to the district. A point that the editorial failed to mention is the yearly contribution to local charities that district teachers and employees make. This year's totals, as of the end of February, are more than $60,000, with more to come by the end of the school year. That does not take into account the annual Fall Food Drive benefiting the Lighthouse Foundation and the upcoming spring charity event. Coupled with the past five years, the total to local charities is well over $250,000. Over the years, district teachers and employees have contributed to local and national disaster relief agencies. Our efforts during Hurricane Katrina were recognized at the national level. The ongoing efforts of the Hop-a-Thon for Leukemia at Emily Brittain Elementary School have raised more than $68,000 for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society. The junior high school winter coat drive provides needed basic supplies to local families. The list can go on and on.