The impasse situation between the Monroe County School District and the union representing most of its employees is one small step closer to resolution now that a special magistrate has been picked to preside over the case, and a date has been set for a hearing.
M. Scott Milinski was the last person remaining after district negotiator Bob Norton and United Teachers of Monroe President Holly Hummel-Gorman each struck three names from a list of seven provided to them by the Public Employees Relations Commission.
An impasse hearing will now take place at 9 a.m. March 5 at the Henriquez Administrative Building on Trumbo Road. The magistrate will then have 15 calendar (business) days to give both parties his recommended decision. The two parties will then have 20 calendar days to discuss the recommendation and decide whether or not to accept it.
At issue is language in the last proposed contract that allows the district to override agreed-upon responsibilities, and, for example, impose furlough days on its employees, as was done two years ago and again last year.
The furlough days, sometimes referred to as days worked without compensation, are gone now, voted away last year by the school board. However, the union vehemently objects to including in any new contracts the mechanism which allowed the furlough days to be imposed in the first place.
Hummel-Gorman said Monday she has no predictions as to which way Milinski will rule, but doesn't expect the furlough mechanism to survive the upcoming hearing.
"We're confident that the budget reduction language matter will be resolved, and we are happy that the process is moving along as expeditiously as possible, so that we can get these matters settled for the hardworking employees of this district," said Hummel-Gorman.
The mechanism must be agreed upon by both sides to be included in any new deal, something the union won't agree to, she added.
The union and district representatives met Jan. 9 for the 26th time since April, resulting in a strongly worded press release from the union stating that the district, through negotiator Norton, a labor law attorney, is holding some $1.2 million in state teacher salary increase money "hostage" over the issue.
Previously, the board's chief negotiator at the collaborative bargaining sessions had been Superintendent Mark Porter. In December, however, Porter threw up his hands over his inability to break the stalemate with the union.
On Tuesday, Porter conceded that the furlough mechanism was likely to fall by the wayside during the upcoming hearing.
"The waiver issue is kind of a moot point here," Porter said. "In fact, the final offer we made to the union removed that language. It was replaced with some management rights language elsewhere in the contract, but I don't think it's going to be proposed again by either side. It will be resolved."
Porter added that the two sides aren't far apart on the financial fundamentals.
The most recent offer turned down by the union would have given teachers a 2.49 percent raise, plus an extra day of training at the rate of $290, plus all teachers in Title One schools would receive an extra $450 annually. Currently, Title One teachers in Monroe County receive just $50.
That offer died with the union's declaration of an impasse, but Porter said the financial differences between the two sides remain insignificant compared to the bitter tussle over the furlough mechanism.
"The financial differences are minor," Porter said. "At worst, it might be $100,000. However, the final stage of the negotiations wasn't as productive as it could have been, and as a result we're left with the impasse process. We just want to keep this moving as quickly as we can, so we can pass along all this revenue we have available to our employees."