Sides still trying to pare school cut

Howell teachers’ union may vote on unspecified concessions this week


HOWELL – Representatives of the Howell Township Education Association (HTEA) met with Mayor Robert F. Walsh late last week in a discussion about possible concessions the union may make as the Howell Board of Education finalizes its budget for the 2010-11 school year.

The HTEA represents teachers in the Howell K-8 School District.

“We had a serious conversation about trying to save jobs and programs for the children,” Walsh said after the May 28 meeting at the school board offices.

The 45-minute discussion came a little more than one week after the Township Council voted unanimously to cut $1.9 million from the 2010-11 school tax levy the board sought to collect from local property owners.

The council’s action sent the school board back into discussions on how it could trim spending.

Developments last week indicate that HTEA members will vote on June 3 on a number of unspecified items, the mayor said.

“I do believe the union will come across with a substantial amount of concessions,” Walsh said. “What they are, I do not know. It wasn’t discussed exactly what they are going to do. I saw a willingness from the union to try and put a proposal together to save jobs and programs for the children.”

Walsh told the council at its May 25 meeting that HTEA officials had indicated to him they would consider concessions. He asked council members if they were open to reducing the amount of the $1.9 million reduction in the school tax levy if concessions were made.

“We are in the 12th hour. What could we do differently than we have done before?” he asked Township Attorney McKenna Kingdon.

The May 25 council meeting was the “last chance” the council had to advertise for a special meeting to amend the reduction in the school tax levy, Kingdon said.

“You have to give 48 hours notice for a special meeting,” she said.

The council could not pass a resolution at the May 25 meeting amending the reduction in the school tax levy unless the union guaranteed that concessions would be made, Kingdon said.

“It has to be a guarantee,” the attorney said. “It can’t be a contingent resolution.”

But council members balked at approving any change to the reduction in the school tax levy until the union actually made concessions.

“I think we all need to know they have done this before we vote on anything,” Councilwoman Pauline Smith said.

Deputy Mayor Angela Dalton said she was uneasy about changing the reduction in the school tax levy.

“We had a number we came up with [$1.9 million] based on our review and an auditor who was paid,” Dalton said. “I’m very uncomfortable with it.”

“It would be my guess we will go nowhere with this tonight,” Walsh said at the May 25 meeting. “The whole process is so flawed, it’s almost not worth doing. To me it’s a dog and pony show. Anything we put down in writing doesn’t mean squat. We have no authority whatever over the school board. They do what they want. They don’t have to do one single thing that is recommended.”

The idea of lowering the $1.9 million reduction in the school tax levy did not sit well with resident Grace Abramov, who spoke during the public portion of the council meeting.

“I’m back there steaming,” she said. “We had six weeks to discuss this budget, and now 48 hours before the deadline, they [the HTEA] want to talk. They have got one heck of a nerve. They used our children. They lined them up left and right at that board meeting. All they care about is themselves. They do not care about their peers. Mr. Mayor and council, I commend you for standing up to that and I applaud you. You did what the voters wanted you to do.”

Howell voters rejected the board’s proposed $66.2 million tax levy portion of the K-8 school district’s $108.2 million budget on April 20. The council’s $1.9 million cut would result in a tax levy for the upcoming school year of about $64.3 million.

The local tax levy is the amount of money collected from property owners to support the operation of the school district in the next academic year. Each property owners pays a K-8 school tax that is based on the assessed value of his property.

After the tax levy defeat, school administrators mailed out “reduction in force” notices to 311 teachers, nine members of the district’s administrative staff, and 105 support staff employees to notify them that their jobs could be in jeopardy.

As of press time, the HTEA was the only union in the district that had not agreed to accept a salary freeze for the upcoming school year.

Central office employees, nonunion department heads, principals, vice principals and supervisors all previously agreed to a salary freeze, Board of Education President Mary Cerretani has said.

If the HTEA agrees to make concessions, state education officials could be petitioned to allow a change to be made in the $1.9 million reduction in the school tax levy that the council authorized, Walsh said.