APS approves labor contracts

ALPENA – Alpena Public Schools Board of Education approved Local 207 and 211 labor contracts at its meeting on Monday night. The two-year contracts cover cafeteria, custodial, maintenance and secretarial employees and call for a 10 percent wage reduction in the first year, and a freeze on reductions in the second. There are three options with the new contracts as far as health insurance is concerned, with employees either being able to keep their current option with higher co-pays and prescriptions, opt for a higher deductible and co-pay and keep the same prescription coverage, or choose a health savings account.

“I think across the board, every labor group has a full understanding of our current financial situation,” superintendent Brent Holcomb said. “The reality is we can’t eliminate the deficit without salary concessions.”

There are still negotiations ongoing or projected with teachers, bus drivers and educational support personnel (aids and paraprofessionals), but the contracts ratified and approved on Monday had an earlier end date.

“Our staff is second to none in the state of Michigan,” Holcomb said. “We are going to continue to provide quality education for students.”

As far as the ongoing contracts go, Holcomb said he thinks they are making progress.

“We have to talk through it,” he said. “I think ultimately we’ll get where we need to be. Right now we’re pretty much in life with what the board set out to obtain.”

The board also approved the deficit elimination plan for Alpena Public Schools which outlines a two year plan to bring the school out of deficit. The plan has been reviewed by the finance committee numerous times and still has a lot of question areas but by filing before being audited into deficit, the board is ahead of the game, according to assistant superintendent for operations and Title I director Diane Block.

“We are submitting by amending into deficit instead of being audited into deficit,” Block said. “This plan does get the job done within two years.”

Since the board is filing before the audit puts it in a deficit, there are still a lot of questions on final numbers.

“Everything is built around assumptions,” Block said. “We have a plan, we are able to eliminate the deficit with the plan with those big picture items (concessions and insurance adjustments). It’s a process.”

The deficit elimination plan will be submitted to the state, which will review the plan and suggest changes if necessary.

“Once the plan is approved, monthly monitoring will kick in,” Block said. “When both funding and enrollment are declining, it gets very difficult to plan a budget. The formula creates a lot of dysfunction. The cost-cutting simply isn’t enough to keep up with the huge problems created when enrollment is on the decline.”

Holcomb added that this is not creating a cut in programming, but this is where the wage concessions and health insurance changes come into play.

“The commitment in this plan is that we are going to be a quality school,” Holcomb said. “Across the board, the message to our community is we’re going to provide the same polished education we’ve supplied in the past. Hopefully the politics will change.”

Block is hopeful about the future after filing the plan.

“I would hope that we’ve bottomed out, and things will get better,” she said.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at ngrulke@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.