SOUTH BEND â â Negotiations in the South Bend School District came to a standstill this week as teachers continue to push for increased financial commitments following the company’s recently passed referendum.
Contract talks between teachers and administrators grew tense after NEA-South Bend union leaders withdrew from a meeting in late October saying they were told no money from the District of $ 166.4 million would only be available for increases this year.
District officials, during their campaign for the referendum, pledged to spend about $ 4.1 million on average each year during the eight years of tax increases.
School officials say any account that the district neglected to commit referendum money to staff increases is false. The company has already pledged $ 3.1 million of the $ 20.8 million it expects to collect each year to increase teachers’ salaries and put “big” new funds on the table this year that won’t. could be offered only because of the referendum.
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These increases, offered by other sources, are only possible because referendum money has eased budgets in other areas, administrators said. They declined to speculate on what future negotiations outside the referendum fund might look like.
After a series of meetings last week, however, the two sides declared a deadlock on Monday, which means that a state mediator with the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board will be assigned to help both sides find a groundwork. agreement in future negotiations.
District leaders and union representatives had previously shared only limited details of the negotiations as talks continued. But now, due to the standoff, South Bend Superintendent Todd Cummings has said he is able to speak freely about the proposals that have been put forward.
âWe want the community to be transparent about how we are spending the referendum money,â Cummings said in an interview Tuesday morning. “And we also want the community to know about the latest proposal that we came up with that got us into a dead end.”
Administrators say they expect to know the next steps soon for working with an assigned meditator.
The Tribune reached out to NEA-SB President Linda Lucy for a response to recent trustees’ proposals, but she was not available for an interview until the Tribune’s print deadline.
Members of the teachers’ union were scheduled to meet with the public at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at South Bend Firefighter’s Association Union Hall to discuss updates on the negotiations and their views on referendum spending.
In the most recent proposal presented before reaching the deadlock, the administration said it offered teachers a series of raises and allowances over the next two years based on years of experience.
All teachers would be offered a one-time stipend of $ 500, and an additional $ 1,000 would be paid to teachers who have been in the district for 24 years or more, administrators told The Tribune.
The company also said it would commit to increases ranging from $ 1,800 to $ 3,300 in year one and $ 1,000 to $ 2,250 in year two based on years of experience. The increases to the base teacher salary would bring a starting teacher’s salary to $ 43,800 after two years and his highest salary to $ 78,350, also in two years.
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The total investment in the district over two years, administrators said, would be $ 6.71 million – an amount that would come from the company’s budgets, meaning district officials would have to use both recent increases in state funding and support operational costs in other areas to maintain long-term increases.
The proposal, on average, would mean a 5.3% increase in the first year and a 4.3% increase in the second year, administrators said. The biggest increases would come to teachers “in the middle” – or those who have worked between 10 and 23 years with the district.
âWhat I’m hearing in the community is that these teachers need to be retained and their salaries need to be increased,â Cummings said. “This attacks that.”
The proposals are said to be higher than those proposed in recent years and similar to increases being discussed in other districts of Michiana as part of a new influx of public funds. School corporations have until November 15 of each year to ratify contracts.
Last month, the Penn-Harris-Madison School Board approved a new one-year contract that brought teachers’ starting salaries to $ 42,000. The contract also includes base salary increases of $ 1,000 to $ 2,500 for current teachers depending on the number of years they have worked with the district.
Administrators in the school town of Mishawaka, in a tentative agreement, propose to offer a starting salary of $ 43,000 and increases of $ 3,500 to $ 4,250 to veteran teachers based on their current base salary. The deal will be discussed at a Mishawaka school board meeting on Wednesday evening.
And the referendum?
A point of tension in the recent South Bend negotiations has been the district’s operational referendum, voted on by taxpayers last June.
At the time of the referendum campaign, school leaders met with the public and laid out a budgeting plan for how they would spend the $ 166.4 million, or roughly $ 20.8 million each year.
This plan included $ 11.2 million for salary increases for first-year teachers and $ 21.6 million for base salary increases for all teachers over eight years, which represents approximately $ 4.1 million. dollars for teachers’ salaries each year.
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The company pledged to raise $ 3.1 million in its latest contract negotiation, according to district leaders, but the proposals discussed this year are believed to come from other sources, namely the District Education Fund, supported by state taxes.
The allowances would be paid with federal pandemic relief money, said deputy superintendent of responsibility Rafi Nolan-Abrahamian.
âFunding schools is so complex,â Cummings said. “We are able to transfer money to different funds, but without the referendum none of this would have been possible.”
District leaders are negotiating their first contract with teachers after receiving the first referendum payments, which means they could agree to future increases in the referendum fund over the next eight years, on top of their initial commitment of 3. $ 1 million.
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Company executives, however, in an interview with The Tribune, declined to “speculate” whether increases would be negotiated from the referendum fund in the future.
According to administrators, the largest portion of the referendum expenses will go to compensate for money the school corporation no longer collects due to the St. Joseph County property tax caps. The district planned to spend $ 120 million from the $ 166.4 million referendum on tax caps, The Tribune reported last year.
Without passing the referendum, the district would consider deeper cuts to absorb taxpayer money that no longer comes in.
Administrators say they find the union’s characterization of the broken promises surrounding the referendum “patently false” and questioned whether union leadership had expressed to its members the full extent of the increases that were on the table before reaching. dead end.
âPeople can focus on a specific fund and not get the big picture,â said Susan Guibert, director of communications.
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District leaders say the union offered, in just one year, fundraisers totaling $ 5.5 million without any specific milestone for teachers in the middle. The union also asked for $ 2.5 million in allowances. Those requests, Nolan-Abrahamian said, would have put the district into debt financing and required staff reductions in the 2022-2023 school year.
Administrators say they feel they have been clear throughout and after the referendum campaign on how taxpayers’ money is being spent.
âIs it a complex subject that is difficult to explain? Yes,â Cummings said. “It will be an ongoing conversation due to the complexity of school finances to keep the community up to date on how we are spending this money.”