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Evansville teachers vote to reopen contract

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GINA R. HEINE
December 21, 2011
— The Evansville teachers union voted 105-34 to reopen its contract to discuss concessions to help fill the district's estimated $1.6 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year.

The Evansville Education Association voted Monday and Tuesday. The vote passed in each of the four schools, union President Bill Hartje said.


"We're very excited," Superintendent Heidi Carvin said. "The hard work is still ahead of us, but at least we're going to be at the table together to work (something out) that will work for us in Evansville."


"The main thing to me," Hartje said, "is this kind of affirms that the board has tried to work with us, and we've tried to work with them over the years, and we want to continue that trend."


The teachers contract goes through June 2013 and includes teachers paying 5 percent of their health insurance premiums and half of their retirement contributions.


Carvin said she couldn't talk about specific contract changes the district would seek.


Hartje said the union likely would look at the cost of living increase and whether any changes could be made to insurance that would not harm members but save money.


The salary schedule is tied to the consumer price index, which officials assumed when the contract was settled would be an increase of 1 percent. That index now is around 3 percent.


Other unions in the district have contracts with salary increases of 1 percent.


"I know that many people are apprehensive, and with good reason given the actions of the politicians this year," Hartje wrote in an email to district staff and the school board. "We now need to do the hard work of figuring out what kinds of cost savings we can accept as a group, if any. But at least we are giving it a shot."


In February, the school district and teachers union came together in record fashion when changes at the state level loomed. A new teachers contract was negotiated and approved within two days.


"I think this is a tribute to our many teacher leaders and the consideration that our board and administration extended to us last March," Hartje wrote in his email.


Negotiations will move quickly after the holidays because changes need to be voted on and approved by union members and the school board by Feb. 20. State legislation that went into effect in November allows public sector unions to open their contracts to make concessions while keeping the rest of the contract intact.


The school board's next meeting is Monday, Jan. 9, but Carvin said a special meeting might be scheduled earlier.


Without concessions, the district would be looking at cutting $1.55 million in salary and benefits and about $50,000 in supplies and materials, which already have been cut, Carvin said.


Rather than make cuts this year, the school board decided to fill this year's deficit of about $600,000 using money from the district's fund balance. The district also faces a loss in federal aid next year, an increase in general expenses and an estimated 8 percent increase in health insurance costs, Carvin said.


"We're all in this together, and we'll see what we can do to make the best of a bad situation," Hartje told the Gazette.



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