By Jim Newell
Lake Orion Community Schools and the Lake Orion Education Association, teachers’ union, have agreed to a three-year contract, a deal that both sides say will bring stability to the district.
The contract takes effect July 1 and runs through June 30, 2021.
School board President Scott Taylor said he believes the contract is equitable for both sides and keeps Lake Orion competitive with other districts.
“It is. I believe it works out best for everybody. We’re in the people business. Our teachers are one of our most important assets besides our children, so we always want to make sure that we’re taking care of them and staying above the curve,” he said.
Rick Arnett, assistant superintendent of human resources, presented the contract to the board of education for approval during the board’s March 28 meeting.
The board approved the contract 5-0, with Treasurer Jim Weidman and Trustee Nate Butki abstaining from the vote citing potential conflicts of interest. Both have family members employed in the district.
“I am happy to report that we have a tentative contract with the LOEA,” said Arnett, who led the negotiating team for the district. “We had a very productive round of negotiations and, I think, before you have a contract that will bring stability to the district over the next three years.”
The contract increases compensation for teachers at the top of the pay scale by 1.75 percent. Almost half of the teaching staff is at the top of the pay scale right now, said Jeff Faber, president of the LOEA.
The contract also raises starting pay for new teachers from $37,951 to $40,090.
The contract also institutes half step promotions. A “step” had, in the past, been equal to one-year seniority. Half steps, which have become common in districts throughout the state, allow districts to save money by progressing teachers slower up the pay scale.
A half step will translate into about a two percent pay raise each year over the next three years, which will help teachers keep up with inflation, said Faber.
The teachers’ union ratified the contract on March 27, with 70 percent of teachers supporting the contract. Turnout for the vote was 90 percent of the 425 teachers in the union, said Faber.
“I view it as a great mandate for the endorsement of the contract,” he said. “This was a strong contract for Oakland County, right now.”
“Both the association and the district go to great lengths to try to retain our talent,” Faber said. “We’ve always had a good, mutual respect, the LOEA and the district. It takes a lot of years to establish that.”
“I think that it was probably the smoothest negotiation that I’ve seen and the camaraderie between the teachers and the admin was awesome. Literally, we had two updates throughout the process because it went so smooth,” Taylor said. “I think the teachers should be commended for understanding the positions that we’re in, and the administration should be commended for their work.”
The teachers had been operating under a one-year contract that expires this summer.
“I think three years, as far as for budgeting, for the teachers knowing that we are in it with them – I think a three-year contract for everyone involved is better. For budgeting, for forecasting, for them to be able to plan their lives,” Taylor said.
Faber said the motivation to increase starting pay is to attract qualified teachers and not lose those at the top of the talent pool to other districts.
“We wanted to make Lake Orion more attractive for teachers so we could be competitive with other districts in Oakland County,” he said.
“We’re not immune to the effects at the state and national level. Our school funding has changed so much over the last decade the big challenge has been moving younger teachers on the pay scale. It really does give some certainty to the staff so they can do some planning for the future,” Faber said.