GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - After months of working without a contract, teachers and West Michigan's largest school district have reached a tentative contract agreement.
Grand Rapids Education Association President Paul Helder said the union reached the tentative deal with Grand Rapids Public Schools around 6:40 p.m. Monday.
He said union members will vote on the contract agreement March 25.
Helder previously told 24 Hour News 8 that Monday was the deadline to reach an agreement so the contract will go into effect before the March 27 start of right-to-work.
"That was the deadline we were using, yes, because the [GREA] constitution and bylaws specifically set up a process," said Helder.
He said there is a meeting Tuesday evening, then the contract proposal will be placed on the GREA's website for a period of five days so members can look at it. There will then be a general meeting of all members on March 25, where they can ask questions and will eventually vote on it.
The contract, if approved, would last for the rest of this year and another two thereafter.
It's possibly the end of a months-long negotiating process that saw several teachers in tears at previous school board meetings.
"I think in any negotiation there's give and take, and depending on how the negotiations go and what the relationships are and everything else," said Helder.
"Negotiations, they are real messy," said GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal. "I don't take very much against me as a person nor as a district and so I think that any hard feelings, let bygones be bygones. We really need to get down to the business of teaching and learning."
Despite the drama of the past few weeks, both sides said, this negotiation is nothing compared to those in the past.
"We've had some hard negotiations in Grand Rapids," said Weatherall Neal. "I've been here -- it's 38 years, almost 39 years -- so I've seen some rough days. It was nothing like that."
"I didn't see a whole bunch of people out there picketing and marching around, so I would say less [rancorous than in the past]," said Helder. "On the other hand, I do know that there was a feeling that this would have gone better than it did. I still think it became far too adversarial."
At its Monday evening meeting, the board unanimously approved two new policies on teacher layoffs and placement within the district. It makes evaluations the biggest criteria in those decisions, and tenure "not a factor."
Helder said he wondered if the new policy "could lead to lawsuit." He specifically questioned parts of the policy that mentioned teacher absences as a part of evaluation criteria.
The new policy is more in line with state tenure reform, but the superintendent admitted it's a departure from how GRPS has operated in the past.
"You know what? It is, but it's right for kids," said Weatherall Neal. "And I have said I'm committed to this community. I will only do what's right for children, and it's unfortunate that adult issues get in the way. I do understand though, the concern that teachers have, I am going to be fair. I am going to be fair, but not everyone is going to be happy, but I am going to do what's best for this district."
"I guess ultimately we still have a lot of unanswered questions [about the new policies]," said Helder.
He said he didn't realize the policies were going to be voted on Monday night, adding he didn't know there had been a first reading for the pair.
"I think [the guidelines] are fairly broad," said Helder.
He went on to say he thinks the new board policies are a direct result of new Michigan laws.
"The Legislature passed a number of laws taking rights away from Michigan citizens and this is a result of that," said Helder.
The school board also approved a new policy regarding teacher placement, that allows the superintendent to move any teacher to any school regardless of tenure.
Neal said this policy will without a doubt play a big role when the Transformation Plan is implemented.
"Not everyone is gonna come with us, and not everyone is going to be happy either -- I think that's important," said Weatherall Neal. "But we will respect the process, we will respect the employees, but we are going to focus on children in this district."
Helder said the teachers still have a lot of questions about the implementation of the Transformation Plan and what it will mean for teachers.
"I don't know any more than you do," said Helder about the Transformation Plan. "I'm getting my information from the press right now, and that's not how that's supposed to work either."
Also Monday night, Weatherall Neal received a "highly effective" rating on her evaluation from the board. She earned 93 out of 100 points. Board members thanked Neal for "another year of hard work." Others said they were proud to be associated with her time at the helm of the district.
Weatherall Neal's evaluation was based upon:
- Superintendent portfolio (including student achievement, leadership, administration/operations,
- and the Transformation Plan)
A driver escaped safely after its vehicle crashed into the Grand River in Ottawa County Friday morning.
We get a brief break from the "lake-effect machine" Friday.
A few flurries occurred Thursday night. Lows held in the teens and the wind relaxed to the 5 to 10 mph range, with 20s at the Lake Michigan.