By Angelo Parlove
With three labor agreements set to expire at the end of this calendar year, Saline Area Schools is readying for the upcoming collective bargaining period.
“We are beginning to set dates with each of those bargaining units to begin the process to negotiate for essentially the calendar year 2017 and beyond,” Superintendent Scot Graden said.
The district’s current labor contracts with its administration, support staff and the teachers association will all expire on Dec. 31, 2016. Therefore, the board of education went into a closed session with district legal counsel at its Sept. 27 study session to prepare for the collective bargaining that is imminent.
“We certainly have a quality staff at each of those bargaining units,” Graden said. “It’s an exciting time. We’re in a better position financially than we have been in some time. That being said there are always challenges when you enter collective bargaining.”
The bargaining comes at at time when the district saw a $2.2 million increase in funding for the 2016-2017 school year. The increase in revenue comes from mostly two sources. First, the district received a spike in state aid as their foundation allowance rose $119 per student to $7538. As a result, the state funding for Saline Area Schools jumped up about $608,000.
Yet, the biggest increase in revenue comes from the Washtenaw County special education millage that was passed in early May, whereby the district anticipates it will collect at least $2 million from the millage during the school year.
However, the district still faces uncertainty whether this increased revenue will be sustained in the upcoming years. “I think the jury is out on that. It’s important for us as we move forward not to just blindly figure we will continue to get those increases or even the increases we were given this year will remain in place,” Graden said about the jump in the state foundation allowance this year. “I think it’s important for us to be prudent as we move forward.”
School Board President Paul Hynek echoed similar thoughts to Graden about next year’s state funding. “This being an election year, who knows what next year will bring,” he said. “It’s always that topsy turvy thing that’s kind of hard to plan for.”
As the bargaining progresses, the district must balance supporting its employees while at the same meeting financial goals, such as how the new labor contracts will impact the budget and fund balance.
“How do we maintain and support that quality staff as well as continue to meet our financial obligations and show our community we are fiscally responsible?” Graden asked. “We’ve made progress with our fund balance. It’s still not where you’d want it, certainly not from our board goal standpoint from where we’d want it to be.”