CEA Attends Board Meeting, Mediation Ongoing

By Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com

The Chelsea Education Association (CEA), the union for teachers in Chelsea, attended the Chelsea Board of Education meeting On Oct. 8 as contract negotiations continue. The teachers have been working without a contract for 104 days as of Oct. 12.

The CEA came to the Sept. 24 board meeting to voice their disappointment. On Monday, community members and members of the CEA spoke once again during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Adam Schilt, a teacher at Chelsea High School, was one member of the CEA who spoke during
public comment. Schilt’s statement touched on three values, self-care, empathy, and advocacy. He told the board those three values shape the way he lives, and he shares that with new classes he teaches. Five years ago, Schilt moved from Kentucky to  Michigan to follow his goal of becoming an educator, turning down a job in Detroit to come to Chelsea.

“I am here tonight because I cannot possibly in good conscience say those things to my students if I don’t practice them now,” said Schilt in his statement. “The superiors in the city proved time and time again they did not care to listen to the voices of my colleagues and myself. I am so proud to teach, advise and mentor the students of Chelsea including some of your own kids. Because in them I see a potential future we should all be excited to build.”

Schilt detailed all the things he and other teachers do, working past when the final bell rings on school days.”

“I do those things because I believe people who are worth immense sacrifice are well worth my
time,” continued Schilt. “I ask this board today, and I ask you, Dr. Helber, why can’t this administration make the sacrifice? I believe all of you have the best interest of the school district at heart, I find in you, Dr. Helber, a capable and brilliant leader who has been nothing but supportive in private conversation. I believe sincerely you’ve looked at the budget and don’t see the dollars needed to match the request of your teachers. I also believe, genuinely and with all due respect, that you are mistaken.”

Schilt admitted he couldn’t necessarily empathize having never led a school district himself or negotiated a school contract himself – he also touched on not feeling any empathy coming from the district.

“I feel hurt…I feel like a budget item instead of a priority to the administration,” said Schilt. “A school district without quality teachers is just a collection of buildings. If we can agree on one thing it is that this is more than that. Please show your teachers you mean it. “

John Mann, husband of Chelsea School Board President Anne Mann, also spoke during public comment about his views of the undeserved backlash that the school board has received.

“I’m disgusted with what’s been going on here in this very public contract negotiation,” said John during public comment. “Social media can be a great thing, the way it has been used against our school board is disgraceful. Personal attacks, misinformation, trash talking, no fact checking, and people are so quick to jump to conclusions. Erroneous conclusions. Shame on you. These school board members are your servants. They posted the numbers of what they are offering for the next six years. When I do the math, I see, including steps and healthcare, increases from 4.3 to 7.3 percent. That’s very generous.”

Kelly Powers, the Washtenaw County School Employees Coordinator Council Director for the Michigan Education Association (MEA), touched on perceived disrespect from the side of the CEA.

“(Their) feelings come from when the CEA President was told he couldn’t speak at the table and only the leads are to speak,” said Powers in her statement during public comment. “When the president continued to speak your superintendent packed her things and left. Your board team does not have the right to tell the CEA how they bargain and who is allowed to do so. Your board’s team has refused to discuss proposals, the board proposals are given to the CEA and then your team refuses to come back to the table for discussion. The CEA bargaining team and general membership feel disrespected when your board team chooses to bargain in public. You need to change the course of these negotiations and create a climate of respect and trust. the employees of this district have not always had it easy bargaining in the past but never felt disrespected by the board’s team until now.”

While acknowledging that the CSD couldn’t tell the CEA how to bargain and vice versa, Powers also suggested someone from the board to be a part of the negotiations team.

Ray Davis, of Thrun Law Firm and the attorney for the CSD told The Sun Times it wasn’t out of the norm for there not to be school board members on the negotiations team.

“I negotiated this year maybe 12-13 contracts for school districts,” said Davis. “And I have for other clients as well, and I can’t think of one where I had a board member on a negotiation team. Last year I had one contract with a board member on a negotiation team, but it was an unusual circumstance where we had a board member with particular expertise.”

Anne Mann made a statement at the end of public comment from the school board, reiterating that the board cared passionately for the children and teachers in the district.

“You’ve worked hard, put in long hours and are very passionate of what you do,” said Anne in her statement addressing the teachers. “We appreciate everything. We vet and hire the best educators we can find. And it shows. Year after year our Chelsea students find a way to shine.”

Anne also touched on the fact that with the tight-knit community, there is overlap, with teachers being friends, sons, daughters, even spouses. She continued to say that every decision must be based on what is best for the students.

“These decisions are not always easy, sitting up here has shown me you cannot please everyone all the time, it doesn’t happen” said Anne, who has spent the past 13 years as President of the Board of Education. “What we can do is hear both sides, listen to the facts, and make our best-informed decision with the information we have. I am hopeful that the two sides can come together at their next meeting which is Oct. 11 and come to a mutually beneficially agreement, I am hopeful this can happen. We’ll move forward and please as many people as we can. I also want to do what’s best for our students.”

Superintendent Julie Helber also spoke echoing Anne but also mentioning being financially responsible for the district.

“We love you, we appreciate what you do every day for our students, changing their lives,” saidHelber. “Our teachers are good people. This is a situation where we have a disagreement about what we can afford, and we just have to problem solve. We want to honor our teachers and you can see why, they’re a great passionate group of people.”

On Oct. 11 both sides met for mediation, but no agreement came as a result. Helber told The Sun Times they remain optimistic and expect lines of communication to remain open.

The CEA also released a statement on Oct. 12 detailing the session.

“Chelsea Superintendent Dr. Julie Helber had stated that the CSD team would not meet with the CEA team without a mediator present,” said part of the CEA statement. “Accepting her condition, the CEA team requested the joint session and both teams sat down on Thursday. The Union team offered various proposals, reflecting different ways to accomplish its goals, while the District’s team refused to respond with any options or proposals past the one Dr. Helber announced publicly in September.”

There is still no set date for the fact-finding.

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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