CEA Hosts Public Forum, CSD Directed to Not Attend

The rock in Pierce Park was painted for the public forum that was moved from Beach Middle School to Pierce Park.

By Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com

Members of the Chelsea Education Association (CEA), the teacher’s union in Chelsea, attended the Chelsea Board of Education meeting September 24 to convey their frustrations and disappointment with current contract negotiations between the CEA and the Chelsea School District.

In addition to an update provided by Superintendent Julie Helber during the meeting as an agenda item, community members spoke during the public comment portion of the board meeting. One of those that spoke was Renae Kempf, a 2016 graduate of Chelsea schools.

After the meeting Kempf and fellow 2016 Chelsea graduate and friend of Kempf, Anna Collins decided they wanted to host a public forum.

“We felt it was unfair teachers were unable to give their side of the story,” said Kempf. “We decided that that was important for them to be able to have that space to tell their side of the story, and board of education members were invited as well. We wanted the community to be able to have their questions answered because on the [Facebook] page we have a huge amount of people asking a lot of questions. It’s hard to get all the answers to them.”

The page Kempf was referencing was the Chelsea Residents in the Know, a Facebook page that she and Collins started so people could keep up to date on current happenings in Chelsea. Kempf and Collins made an event for the dubbed “Chelsea Public Forum.” It was to be hosted at Beach Middle School on Oct. 3. Chelsea Residents in the Know invited representatives from the CEA and the CSD to attend and be able to engage in discussion with community members about any question they had about the current contract negotiations, with the event being moderated by Brian Cowen from Breakfast with Bubba W4 Country radio.

After the Sept. 24 board of education meeting, Chelsea Residents in the Know invited both the CEA and the CSD to their public forum. Later in the week, the CEA accepted the invite and the CSD declined the invite.

“Since we are working through the processes established by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission it would not be advisable to circumvent these processes,” said Superintendent Dr. Julie Helber. “Accordingly, we will not be attending the community forum. The Board of Education is desirous of reaching an agreement with the CEA and I believe our latest proposal to make our teachers either the highest or among the highest paid teachers in Washtenaw County is evidence of the Board’s desire to reach a fair and equitable settlement,” she added in part of her response to the invitation.”

“The board couldn’t attend because it wasn’t properly notified about the meeting. I didn’t want that to create an issue,” said Ray Davis, of Thrun Law Firm and an attorney for the CSD. “And number two, I didn’t want our negotiating team attending because I didn’t want them to say anything that could be misinterpreted as an unfair labor practice charge. I directed the board and the negotiation team not to attend because of the legal risk. It’s not that we’re trying to avoid the public forum.”

On Oct. 3 four hours before the forum Kempf received a phone call.

“He asked if it was Renae Kempf, I said ‘Yup,’ he said, ‘This is Ray Davis from the Thrun Law Firm, I’ve got Dr. (Julie) Helber on the line with me,’” said Kempf. “Then he laid out about 3-4 reasons why they may or would take legal action against me (for hosting the public forum). The reason was misinforming the public because her name, Julie Helber, was posted on the agenda that I sent to (CEA President) Rick Catherman, Julie Helber, and CC’d all the board members in an email thread. I sent the agenda and her name was still on it after she had declined so she sent me a strongly worded email telling me to take her off. I promptly emailed her back telling her, her name had been taken off the final agenda. This gentleman on the phone said her name was on the published agenda, I instantly said back ‘If you’re going to accuse me of things you better get your facts straight because this is not published. Some of their accusations were unfounded, but just the fact I’m 20 years old running a Facebook page, really? You’re going to try and sue me? Are you kidding me?”

Davis told The Sun Times he did call Kempf, but to clarify things about the forum.

“Yeah, she received a call from Julie and me, that’s correct,” said Davis. “I told her she needed to make really clear to the audience that night that I’m the one directing the board not to be there. I think I told her, if she would, to convey three things. One that it would be inappropriate for the board to be there because there’d be an open meetings act violation and also it would be inappropriate for negotiation team to be there because our negotiation team could say something that could wind up being a para violation and the third thing I wanted her to make clear to the audience is that we were not involved in the scheduling of it. And that if she would have just called beforehand and talked with us so we knew the schedule that would’ve been helpful. It was kind of sprung on us the last minute. I got the call on a Saturday, looks like they’ve scheduled up a forum and were supposed to be there the next Wednesday? We can’t do that. She didn’t check with anyone, we let her reserve a room, but it was very inappropriate I thought the way she scheduled it, for them to do.”

“Let me say one other thing so there’s full transparency,” added Davis. “I know the Michigan Education Association shot me an email Friday suggesting I had threatened to sue Renae and my response to that was absolutely not and the MEA administer suggested I was unethical, and I told him that’s defamatory in my email. If there’s any suggestion I was acting unethical or threatening to sue those are gross inaccuracies and I notified the MEA late Friday afternoon that that was the case.”

There are no limitations as to how long the contract negotiations can carry on, but Davis expounded on the fact-finding aspect of the case that he said would be beneficial for both the CEA and the CSD.

“We’re pleased they filed for fact-finding because my guess is that both sides don’t have a common understanding of the financial picture of the district,” said Davis. “Fact-finding usually allows the parties to do that. In fact, usually allows parties to at least reach a common understanding of the financial position of the district. I think the district really wants to assure its teachers are compensated appropriately. I think they put an offer on the table to make the teachers some of the highest paid in the area if not the highest paid in the area. They especially want to invest in their more senior teachers because their senior teachers haven’t had a raise in a number of years. I’m surprised the association is running a crisis management plan in light of the proposal that’s on the table. As I understand the numbers the district has really extended beyond what they feel is financially prudent but they’re willing to do that in order to invest more in their senior teachers. That doesn’t mean mediation or fact-finding or after fact-finding, we can’t move the numbers around. The nice thing about meditation is the parties can sit down and talk and get together and move that pie around a little bit too. Maybe we’re not investing these dollars where they’d best be invested, and we could sit down and deliberate and debate it no mediation and hopefully find a mutually agreeable solution. That’s how I envision the process.”

After the call Kempf got in touch with Catherman, letting him know she wouldn’t be able to host the public forum. Catherman got in touch with the Crisis Team of the CEA and the forum was moved to Pierce Park and hosted by the CEA as a result of the phone call from the CSD’s attorneys.

Catherman spoke shortly at the start, telling attendees his and the CEA’s intention was to continue to respect the process, as a result, he wouldn’t be speaking much other than introductory remarks.

Chris Orlandi, a math teacher at Chelsea High School and member of the CEA, was the bulk of the forum, breaking down a printed-out PowerPoint on the numbers of the contract negotiations the CEA had printed after moving the forum to Pierce Park.

After the presentation, Orlandi and other members of the Crisis Team answered any questions from attendees.

The CEA passed out cards with information on the numbers in the negations as well as pre-addressed postcards to the superintendent and school board members while encouraging community members to again attend the next board of education meeting (10/8) in support of the teachers.

“If anyone from our board would have attended I swear to goodness we would have risked an open meeting, if our board would have been there, someone would have filed an open meetings act lawsuit,” said Davis. “If a member of our negotiation team said something out of school automatically would’ve gotten an unfair labor practice charge and I wasn’t going to risk that without legal expertise being there I’m not going to tell my client to be there. I told Renae that. I hope the parties play it professional (at the board meeting) tomorrow night because the reality is that I think the board really appreciates its professional staff. I know the board appreciates its professional staff. In fact, I think that’s why the board wanted to put so much on the payment. But we don’t want the community to have any other feeling than that.”


Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

6 thoughts on “CEA Hosts Public Forum, CSD Directed to Not Attend

  • October 7, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    After seeing social media posts and reading this article, I am convinced Ms. Kempf and Ms. Collins is in much need of an education in the processes of contract negotiations and what responsibility it is to inform the public. It’s one thing to encourage discussion, it’s another to spread false information, bias and present it as fact to the public. They take a public forum such as Facebook or organizing a community gathering but the conversation is one-sided. If you don’t agree with what they consider the right side, then conversation stops and you become the enemy. ‘Get on board or get out’ attitude is not informing the public.

  • October 8, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    Growing up in Chelsea, Michigan was a privilege and a blessing. Its often recognized for the passion of its teachers, making the behavior of the CEA disappointing to an alumnus. Having such disparity between the CSD and CEA can only be affecting the students, un-participating teachers, and families. It should be made clear why the CEA is in the wrong.
    First, most of the arguments by the CEA gravitate around wages not meeting the rate of inflation. This is impossible, and most jobs do not match inflation because it fluctuates. How would teachers feel if certain years their raises were less than before, or wages took a cut because of deflation? In addition, steps were all unfrozen and given a 1.3% raise, which would make up for any wage cuts by 2020 without using surplus funds. Extra funds should be saved for a time of distress, much like the closing of Pierce Lake Elementary during the 2008 economic crisis. If the money has to be spent, it should be spent on the students and families who are the priority, not the teachers who are already some of the highest paid staff in Washtenaw county. Teachers are not facing poverty due to wages since starting salary is $15,000 more than the poverty line. Finally, health care caps are not a requirement, but a maximum that a school district is allowed to contribute. CSD has increased its contributions by over $1,000 for each category of insurance in the last few years.
    Wouldn’t teachers want to accept a negotiated contract that increases their wages and benefits? Unfortunately, the CEA does not want to compromise, they will onlysettle for what they want; more money. In addition, CEA members have established a crisis team, which were created by the district for horrific events, such as the death of a student. Teachers are not in crisis; they are acting in greed. For the CEA to say that their 15-step contracts do not push potential teachers to invest in Chelsea suggests that the beautiful city, low crime rate, national and state recognition, amazing sports teams, clubs for every person, and frequent community events are not as valuable as the teacher’s salary. Finally, the video that teachers are creating to show their sacrifice is baffling. Before entering a career in education, everyone is made aware that it is not the best paying field and there may be sacrifice, but choose to do it anyway because the impact of education is worth so much. I thought this is what Chelsea educators believe, it is disappointing to know I was so wrong.

  • October 8, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    Seeing as October is Bullying Preventikn Month, I find the comment left by LilBirdy to be a prime example of bullying.
    If you do not want to read any of the social media posts, or further information regarding the negotiations, then leave those social media accounts and don’t click on a story related to the subject.
    Calling out two young people who are trying to educate a community, very well I might add, is not helpful in anyway. There are many opinions regarding the current situation and negative remarks are counterproductive. Everything that has been posted by either Renae or Anna has been factually correct.

  • October 9, 2018 at 8:34 am

    The comments from LilBirdy and SluggerWP are laughable. So easy for LilBirdy to suggest that false info being presented by the Residents in the Know (RITK) site and then not list any examples. RITK doesn’t aim to be an unbiased source of info. Ms. Kempf and Ms. Collins unashamedly state that they have opinions too and that they will in fact use the RITK site to present those. The forum, on the other hand, was intended to be a place where both sides could share. The CSD cowardly avoided the forum and then played a bully trump card by using legal threats (surely at taxpayer expense). The CSD would prefer to bargain at board meetings where they can present for a 1/2 an hour and opposition gets 3 minutes to speak. Seems fair to me (lots of sarcasm).

    Regarding Slugger, not sure where to begin, there’s so much junk in your comment. If you understand economics, you would understand that the pay scale needs to meet the rate of inflation over time, not each year. Inflation has been low in recent years, but the pay scale hasn’t moved. Teachers have gotten one significant raise (I believe it was a whopping 2%) over the past 8 years or so.
    Over time, if wages do not increase faster than inflation, you have a major problem in ANY industry. City of Chelsea workers recently got a deal that I’m pretty sure was over 2% each year for 3 years, but I’m not sure on that one. Would love it if someone could verify that. If anyone out there thinks the CSD’s 1.3%, 1.0%, 0.5% raises over 3 years will keep up with cost of living increases, I’d think you need to do some research. It would be surprising for inflation to remain that low over 3 years. Also, after 8 years of basically no raises, maybe there’s some catching up for the CSD to do! Maybe the CSD should actually try to BEAT inflation. There’s an interesting idea.

    Let’s talk surplus funds now. Why the opposition to using surplus funds Slugger? Why is it cool for there to be a $5.5 million fund that will never get touched. Ohhh right, the CSD needs it for times of distress, like when Pierce closed. Oh wait, the CSD had a fund equity of about 20% then too. Yes, when the district was losing students like crazy and talking about layoffs, the fund balance NEVER WENT ANYWHERE NEAR 15%. So you’re saying this is an emergency fund, right? Can you give me a few examples of the kinds of emergencies that you are talking about here? A decade has gone by, basically a 20% fund equity, basically every year. Check it out. Do your research. Did you know the Board’s policy was to keep that fund at 15%? They are over their own policy by over $1million EVERY YEAR! Every year. Those dang greedy teachers. You’re right Slugger. Those teachers are out to sabotage this district. They want to drive this financial juggernaut of a school district into the ground. Think maybe it would be cool to be, I dunno, like average? To do what other district’s are doing maybe? Do your research before you spout off garbage about fund balance being saved for emergencies. Even when it was raining around here, the rainy day fund never got touched. The CSD is hoarding cash and I’m excited for you to give me a solid historical reason for why? Good luck.

    3 cheers for Slugger’s argument that teachers are $15K above the poverty line to start. Nice. Let’s set the bar low baby. And CEA will be highest paid in the county? Do your research. The highest Masters lane salary does NOT mean that CEA teachers would be the highest paid. Contracts have LOTS of details in ’em. I’m also reading the insurance contribution level stinks relative to just about everywhere else around here. So are you the highest paid if you have to pay $5K more in insurance. Maybe, maybe not. As I read Slugger, it just seems clear that you are pumping rhetoric without the facts to back it. Keep researching. Or maybe start researching.

    “The CEA does not want to compromise…” Another fine quote. Where do you draw the line, Slugger? Think the CEA did a pretty good job compromising on the last bundle of contracts, don’t you? Can you tell me what the deals were for in the last few rounds of negotiations? You probably can’t, because I don’t think you’ve done the research. NO MORE. No more. As a taxpayer with students going through the schools, I believe it’s the teachers’ turn to get paid out of the SURPLUS funds of the district. SURPLUS (means extra). Do you really think the CEA would want to run the CSD out of business or even put it in financial jeopardy and have their own people get laid off. Foolish.

    If “students…are the priority”, as you suggest, and you want $ spent on them, the educational research you’re gonna find would generally suggest that spending it on high quality educators is the best way to enhance their educations. Where do you want to spend it anyway, Slugger? New ball fields? Re-open Pierce when we don’t need it? More iPads? What’s your suggestion? You don’t have any, so long as it doesn’t go to the greedy teachers. Unbelievable.

    To all who read any of this, I actually do apologize for my snarky tone. But I do ask you to do your research. The info is out there. You can call the CSD and ask all about fund equity. You can hit up the CEA sites and ask them for any info you need. Please don’t eat up the rhetoric from EITHER SIDE until YOU do your research or find someone who has. And certainly don’t post until you have some facts to back ’em up. Got that Slugger?

  • October 9, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    Wow, flying falcons, a little testy, huh? No reason to attack Slugger. But oh so typical of a union backer. Talk about spewing rhetoric. Right out of the CEA playbook. You know what’s laughable? The CEA. It’s a darn good contract CEA. Sign it already. You just look like greedy fools.

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