Sullivan teachers push for alternative school in contract talks

Rick Wagner • May 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Opening a Sullivan County alternative school and tenured teacher job security are more important this coming school year than a pay increase, according to the chief contract negotiator for county teachers.

During contract negotiations Tuesday, Teddi Adler, lead negotiator for the Sullivan County Education Association, did not ask for a percentage pay increase for 2009-10 and instead said the school system should pay teachers what school system officials think the teachers are worth.

Adler also said the Sullivan County Commission needs to consider the SCEA stance when it votes on the budget this year.

“We will not ask for a specific salary increase,” Adler said when the negotiations session turned to teacher pay.

Instead, Adler said the SCEA members want the school system to open an alternative school, an item up for discussion at the June 2 negotiations session.

An alternative school would serve middle and high school students banned from school for zero-tolerance offenses, as well as those removed from school for other behavior or problems, and could help boost the system’s graduation rate.

The other SCEA push is for a change in language that in cases of position abolition or recall that the director of schools “shall” place tenured teachers in a job held by a non-tenured teacher if the tenured teacher is qualified rather than current language that says the director “may” do that.

The SCEA and Sullivan County Board of Education representatives earlier this year spent two and a half sessions deadlocked on the issue before tabling it for consideration later.

BOE chief negotiator Evelyn Rafalowski, the school system’s director of sports and transportation, asked if the SCEA concerns were ranked in order.

Adler responded that the SCEA was not requesting a specific pay raise increase but to look at going forward with an alternative school and changing “shall” to “may” in the contract “more than anything.”

Adler said a county commissioner told her the commission last year might have allowed funding for the alternative school if the SCEA hadn’t sought and got a 0.25 percent pay increase.

“I hope they think about that when they are presented the budget,” Adler said.

Asked if the 2009-10 budget would include an alternative school, Rafalowski said the school system as of yet has no draft budget.

The BOE-proposed school budget last year included $371,000 for an alternative school to open mid-school year, with the yearlong cost about $700,000.

The BOE presented the commission a budget that required no property tax increase but would have used about $2.6 million of the system’s then-estimated $6 million reserve to balance the budget.

However, Budget Committee members said that was too much and told Director of Schools Jack Barnes to go back to the BOE and find more than $1 million in cuts, which included the $371,000 for the alternative school.

The 2008-09 school budget was set at $90.4 million, an increase of about $60,000 from 2007-08.

On other matters, the SCEA and school board negotiators agreed to allow a $525 supplement for 10-week assistants to band directors for non-certified employees instead of certified, although they still would have to go through the application and background check processes. The 10 weeks does not have to be concurrent or only in the summer any more, either.

Both sides Tuesday also collaborated to reduce all their earlier agreements this year to writing, including mostly housekeeping matters to update, clarify or correct contract language to reflect intent, available options and/or federal law.

However, both sides agreed to leave in a section basing health insurance benefits to 95 percent of individual policy costs and 70 percent of family policy costs on the Cigna point of service plan, which happens to be the least expensive of three options.

Rafalowski had proposed it be changed to say the least expensive of options on the state plan, while the SCEA had wanted to change it to POS regardless of which plan was cheapest.

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