MANDATA - Line Mountain School Board members are "surprised and concerned" regarding recent statements from Mark McDade, who is representing the Line Mountain Education Association (LMEA) in a contentious contract battle.

McDade commented for a story in The News-Item last week that it appears a teachers strike is "imminent" and that it could come this year or next school year. He also said, "I don't know how you can bargain with a group of people who define negotiations as a winner-takes-all approach."

Ben Pratt, the district's negotiating attorney, on Tuesday emailed a letter outlining the board's reaction to McDade's comments as well as a list of 11 "benefits/increases" within the language of the existing contract that he said are "certainly not a 'winners-takes-all approach.'"

"Considering the April 22 negotiation session saw both sides talking again, resulting in resuming negotiations only 15 days later on Monday, May 12, the board of directors is mystified by Mr. McDade now proclaiming a strike is imminent," Pratt wrote. McDade's comments were made May 13, one day after the latest negotiations.

That May 12 session started with a proposal from the board in which a change in the Health Savings Account (HSA) plan moved to a lower deductible plan, Pratt said.

Also, "in an act of good faith," the board followed with an offer of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in an attempt to restore college credits effective immediately, for LMEA's withdrawal of the work to rule, Pratt said.

"Although the MOU was not accomplished, four separate revisions over a two-hour timeframe were negotiated, indicating a willingness on parties to negotiate," he said.

He said the board remains "encouraged" by recent negotiations and hopes McDade and the state appointed mediator can make time to schedule another meeting.

"The board of directors does not agree with Mr. McDade's assertion that they are taking a 'winners-takes-all approach, as they feel a strike is the only way losers are guaranteed," Pratt wrote. "Unfortunately, the losers would be the students, and seven of the nine (board) members currently have children in the school."

Board president Troy Laudenslager said previously the district made multiple proposals "outside the box" to acquiesce to union demands.

"If they strike, that's their call," he said last week.

Line Mountain teachers have been working on an expired contract since June 2012. The union has previously threatened to strike and will continue "working to the rule," a position the union adopted Sept. 30, meaning teachers work during the contracted 7 1/2 hours and nothing more.

Teachers received an annual 3-percent raise in the expired pact.

About 100 teachers picketed a board meeting in March, and half returned to a second meeting that month to stand together in silence during the meeting.

Read Pratt's letter in its entirety with this story at www.newsitem.com.

Ben Pratt's letter follows:

The Line Mountain board of directors is surprised and concerned regarding the recent statements from Mark McDade, Uni-Serve representative for the Line Mountain Education Association "LMEA." Mr. McDade states Tuesday, "It appears to be imminent," regarding a teacher strike, further offering "I don't know how you can bargain with a group of people who define negotiations as a winner-takes-all approach."

Considering the April 22, 2014 negotiation session saw both sides talking again, resulting in resuming negotiations only 15 days later on Monday, May 12, 2014, the board of directors is mystified by Mr. McDade now proclaiming a strike is imminent.

Negotiations on Monday, May 12, 2014 started with a proposal from the board in which a change in the Health Savings Account (HSA) plan moved to a lower deductible plan. Also in an act of good faith the board followed with an offer of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU.) This MOU was an attempt to restore college credits effective immediately, for LMEA's withdrawal of the Work to Rule. Although, the MOU was not accomplished, four (4) separate revisions over a two (2) hour time frame were negotiated, indicating a willingness on parties to negotiate. Furthermore, the district believes the MOU was anything but a "winners-takes-all approach" considering at the time only twenty one (21) school days remain.

Additionally, the District believes their current offer which reflects a minimum of eleven (11) benefits/increases within the language of the existing CBA is certainly not a "winners-takes-all approach." The board's current proposal includes:

All seventeen (17) steps on the salary matrix will increase by $1,600.00 over the next 5 years.

Salary Increases for those moving a step on the salary matrix will reflect a minimum range of:

2012-2013 - $1,588 - $1,711

2013-2014 - $1,838 - $1,961

2014-2015 - $1,938 - $2,061

2015-2016 - $2,038 - $2,161

2016-2017 - $2,138 - $2,261

The top Step - Step 17 currently sees a $0, $250, $350, $450, & $550 dollar raise over the same respective years.

The professional staff year will decrease from a 186 to 185 day calendar.

Professional staff will now be able to accrue 8 personal days instead of 7.

Professional staff will also no longer lose unused personal days as they will now roll over into sick days.

Compensation for work beyond the school day will increase from $22.00 to $25.00 per hour.

A doctorate degree column will now be added for an additional $1,000.00 annual salary.

Language has been added for greater professional growth in that the superintendent may now approve more than 6 annual credits if the credits shall be a benefit to the educational needs of the district.

Upon retirement remuneration of unused sick days will go from $20.00 to $35.00 for unused sick days up to 150, and from $30.00 to $45.00 for any unused sick days over 150.

Implementation of a Health Savings Account (HSA,) which upon retirement follows the employee.

Despite recent negotiations and the aforementioned changes to the expired contract, it is unfortunate Mr. McDade expresses a strike is imminent, while accusing the board of a "winners-takes-all approach." The board and I have been encouraged by recent negotiations and hope Mr. McDade, and the state appointed mediator can make time to schedule another meeting, to continue the discussions, in which significant change has been written into the language of the expired contract. The board of directors does not agree with Mr. McDade's assertion that they are taking a "winners-takes-all approach" as they feel a strike is the only way losers are guaranteed. Unfortunately the losers would be the students, and seven of the nine members currently have children in the school.

Sincerely

Ben Pratt