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Friday, March 22,2013

On LSD

Lansing teachers, superintendent get a new five-year contract with layoffs; school board agrees to sell two buildings

by Sam Inglot

This story was updated Friday, March 22. 

Thursday, March 21 — Along with several dozen layoffs, Lansing teachers gave up their daily planning time and agreed to no step salary increases as part of a new contract with the district adopted tonight.

In an 8-1 vote — and after nearly two hours of negotiations in closed session — the board approved a new five-year contract with the Lansing Schools Education Association, the district’s teachers union. Board member Charles Ford voted against the contract.

Union President Patti Seidl said the teachers made “huge concessions” to help keep the district financially sound. 

“They are giving up their planning time to help sustain the district, which will result in layoffs,” she said. “But the tradeoff is trying to keep the district solvent, so that’s huge. It was a very tough decision for them.”

Seidl said roughly 90 teachers could be laid off as a result of the contract. She said up to 20 percent of the teachers in elementary and secondary school buildings could be laid off.

“When you lose 520 students and you have declining funding, there are bound to be layoffs,” she said. And because there are “very few new hires” in the district, the majority of teachers who will likely be targeted for layoffs have been in the district for a number of years.

Elementary school teachers in the art, music, physical education and media programs will be impacted by layoffs, Seidl said. Those teachers who have additional certifications in other subjects will stand a better chance of keeping their jobs.

Seidl said teachers would get a $5,000 stipend for giving up their daily 50 minute planning periods. She called it a “little reward” for the concessions. The teachers also agreed to no increases in salary.

“It’ll be hard because they’ll have to restructure their days and find different ways to get things done that they usually use that time for,” she said.  She declined to comment on how much the district would save through the concessions.

District Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul said she was pleased with the cooperation from the teachers during the contract negotiations.

“I think the teachers have done a marvelous job in setting the foundation for the way we’re going to be doing business in our district,” she said. “I’ve got to hand it to them: They understand what we’re trying to do and they overwhelmingly approved what we as a group came together to decide. I’m really proud of them.”

In other district business, the board voted to sell the Genesee School Building for $1. The building has fallen into disrepair and costs the district $50,000 in utilities a year, Caamal Canul said. The buyer, a nonprofit called Zero Day, provides construction training for financially struggling veterans. A new aspect of the deal includes a clause that if Zero Day sells the building within the next five years the district will share in the profits.

Sam Sinicropi, assistant superintendent of operations, said Zero Day has a history of buying buildings around the Midwest that have fallen into disrepair and using them as training grounds for construction and historical restoration training.

The board authorized the Genesee sale by a 7-2 vote. Board members Amy Hodgin and Ford voted against it. They believed that the district should have tried to get more money for the building and that it should have been on the market for a longer period of time.

"We have not at one point solicited a sale of this property," Ford said. "I think it's a travesty that we're selling this building for a dollar."

Hodgin said she was initially going to vote in favor of the sale, but she changed her vote at the last minute because she would've liked a local nonprofit to purchase the building.

In a second real estate transaction, the board unanimously approved selling the Moores Park Elementary School building, which has been closed since 2009. The building will be sold to PSO Laboratory, a medical research company, for $260,000 once the building gets the proper zoning.

"If they don’t get rezoned, the sale is off," Caamal Canul said.

Along with the teachers, Caamal Canul also got a new contract approved. The board voted 8-1 to extend her contract another two years. The lone dissenter, Ford, believed the district didn't complete a thorough enough search for a superintendent when they first hired Caamal Canul last year.

The rest of the board was thrilled to be extending the contract.

"We've seen an enormous amount of progress" in the district, said board Secretary Peter Spadafore. He said the district has experienced an "improvement of morale" and a more cohesive atmosphere since Caamal Canul began as superintendent.

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