LINCOLN - The Alcona Community Schools Board of Education gave its final OK Tuesday to a contract that extends its agreement with teachers for three years.
A two-year contract was negotiated and approved Jan. 14, providing what school Superintendent Shawn Thornton called "a zero percent pay raise." Teachers also voted to freeze merit increases, something officials call "steps." The more years of experience teachers accumulate, and the more advanced degrees they earn, the more pay they qualify for.
Tuesday's action extends the January contract one more year, until June 30, 2015, in hopes the district can solve its budget issues. Alcona and other school districts have been affected by state budget cuts as well as a declining population of children in Northeast Michigan.
The school board discussed the contract in a closed session, before reopening its special meeting and approving the document.
Five board members approved the contract extension; board member Steve Yokom abstained, Linda Champagne was absent.
The contracts already have been approved by teachers, who are represented by the Michigan Education Association.
"We came back to the table to have additional conversations with teachers after the millage failed," Thornton said after the meeting.
Area voters turned down a 10-year millage increase in February that would have provided funds for cash-strapped districts in a three-county area, including Alcona.
"We are trying to work in partnership with the MEA to do what we have to do to provide quality education for our kids," she said.
Dorene Schick, a fourth-grade teacher, participated in the negotiations and said she and others were on board for the pay and step freezes, because pay cuts and layoffs would have been a worse option.
"If we didn't take the step freeze, that would mean cutting another teacher that we'd need in our ranks," she said.
Pay for first-year teachers with a bachelor's degree is around $35,000, she said.
"Whatever we made at the end of last year is what we'll make for the next three years," she said.
Schick said teachers constantly have to adapt to changing regulations, new laws and advanced approaches to education, as well as cuts in programs.
"I've been here 22 years, and things are always changing," she said. "They're raising the bar all the time. So how do you offer quality education with the budget cuts that we've had? That's why we took the freeze."
Although most of its buildings are up to date, older sections of the Alcona school building are showing signs of wear. In one part built in the 1950s, two classroom ceilings leak when it rains or snows - a sign the roof needs to be replaced.
Custodian Rita Hartwig checked one row of buckets in a stained room brightened by an American flag.
"They usually just store stuff in here," she said.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.