Raises for Fruitport school employees

Krystle Wagner • Oct 21, 2016 at 8:00 AM

FRUITPORT – After several years of no pay increases, all Fruitport Community Schools bargaining groups have received pay increases.

The district projected a loss of 64 students, but ended up seeing a gain of three students during the recent Count Day. This helped provide additional funds for contract negotiations with district employees.

Fruitport Community Schools Superintendent Bob Szymoniak said the district looked at maintaining a 6 percent general fund balance, and any funds above that was negotiable.

The Fruitport Education Association received a ratified 2016-17 school year contract which calls for a pay step increase, and staff members at the top of the step salary schedule will receive years of longevity.

The longevity scale and step schedule has been frozen, and this contract helps recover some of that loss, Szymoniak said.

Since most other bargaining groups settled their contracts in July, those groups had an agreement to open the contract for the possibility of salary increase, Szymoniak said.

Other employees who received pay increase include staff such as food service, transportation, instructional assistants, and clerical workers.

Not all employees will receive an increase, however. Szymoniak explained that some staff members won’t see an increase depending on their position on the longevity scale.

Szymoniak said he’s grateful the teachers’ union was willing to wait and see enrollment numbers before negotiating for the 2016-17 school year.

FEA President Derek Woycehoski said it’s nice to see the district’s fund balance grow and the employees being taken care of.

Woycehoski said they would have liked a multi-year contract, but the union understands why the district was hesitant with finances, and noted that they’re happy to have a contract settled before the end of the calendar year.

As a union, Woycehoski said they feel as though they’ve been treated unfairly for four years, and they were beginning to see it impact the quality of education as several-year veteran teachers were making the same as beginning teachers at surrounding schools.

Woycehoski said they felt the step increase was needed to help teachers on the lower end of the pay scale receive compensation, and the longevity scale helps teachers know their time is valued.

In addition to pay freezes, Woycehoski said they continue to pay more for health insurance.

Woycehoski said the pay increases were “much needed” for the district as they were reaching a point where it was difficult for employees to feel valued.

“This went a long way in trying to help it,” he said.

Szymoniak said the last four years have been some of the most difficult in his career, and it hasn’t been easy looking employees in the eye knowing he’s unable to give them the raise they deserve. The district hasn’t been able to provide pay increases because of declining enrollment, Szymoniak said.

For more than a year, the district and FEA worked to negotiate a contract for the 2015-16 school year. In May, the Fruitport Education Association filed unfair labor practice charges against the school district.

In July, the association and school district agreed to a .75-percent pay increase for the 2015-16 school year, Szymoniak said.

The unfair labor practice charges were rescinded at that time.

Woycehoski said that contract was valid for three weeks, and staff didn’t receive retrograde pay.

In the coming years, Woycehoski said they’re hoping to continue the positive increase, and teachers look forward to continuing their ongoing efforts to help students grow and improve.

Szymoniak said they will wait and see what the governor’s budget entails for per pupil funding, and enrollment counts. Szymoniak said he hopes and has good reason to believe that there will be more good news in the fall with Fruitport’s growing residential development.

Szymoniak said he’s grateful for staff members working with the district during the difficult time.

“We have hit rock bottom financially, and now we’re on an upward trend and we have a very positive future to look forward to, I truly believe,” he said.

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