By Patricia Bogumil
Talks are underway to find common ground to create a temporary contract for special education services in the Waterford area schools through June 30.
What happens after June 30 if no such contract is in place remains a work in progress.
At a Feb. 12 administrators meeting, officials discussed “what we could and what we could not agree on,” said Superintendent Keith Brandstetter of the Waterford Union High School district, which serves as the fiscal agent for the Co-op.
Instead of using attorneys and taxpayer money to litigate Co-op issues, it was suggested that creating a temporary contract with input from all the Co-op’s districts should be tried, Brandstetter explained.
Besides Waterford Graded and the high school, the Co-op provides services to special education needs students in the Washington-Caldwell and North Cape districts.
Two major items would be part of a tentative agreement, according to Brandstetter:
• all districts would operate under the current agreement until June 30, 2014; and
• the districts would try and find common ground and revise the current Co-op by June 30, 2013.
If this revision cannot be achieved, Waterford Graded would then be allowed to leave the Co-op on July 1, 2014.
At their Feb. 18 monthly meeting, Waterford Graded board members were receptive to having a tentative contract in place until June 30, said Superintendent Chris Joch.
Some members also want more information on specific details of the Co-op budgeting process, Joch added, and that topic will be brought to the next administrators’ meeting.
Administrators are again set to meet Wednesday, March 6.
The new tentative agreement proposal will likely be discussed at school board meetings being held in March.
On Monday, Joch said neither he nor his board had yet seen a copy of the tentative agreement.
If it is forwarded later this week, then the agreement will be an agenda addition for March 4 committee meetings (most likely the personnel/finance committee), with full board action scheduled on March 18, Joch explained.
“Our hope is that we resolve these issues,” Brandstetter said Feb. 25, explaining “we’re trying to get as specific as possible” to understand the issues that need to be discussed.
But some core values are in place, such as having majority votes decide general Co-op issues as well as budgetary issues, he noted.
If Waterford Graded wants to switch from majority-of-the-boards voting to Waterford Graded getting a 50 percent say in everything, “I don’t think that’s going to happen, because that involves one of the fundamental principals we operate on,” Brandstetter said.
Besides the tentative agreement, three other items need to be discussed by the different boards, according to a synopsis of the Feb. 12 meeting prepared by Brandstetter.
These include issues of employee health insurance contributions, post-retirement benefits and conflict resolution procedures for various issues that arise.
The items needing board discussions are the ones that could not be immediately agreed upon Feb. 12, according to Brandstetter.
“However there were many more items that all could agree upon,” he noted.
– the high school serving as the Co-op fiscal agent;
– hiring process for all;
– placement of staff by the special education director;
– evaluation process of staff;
– employment status of all high school staff treated the same in regards to employee contributions and other benefits;
– employment status regarding salary and where placement occurs for newly hired staff;
– monthly meetings as the method to communicate concerns and discuss issues;
– budget meetings held in February and May so each district can express any concerns early in the process; and
– the Co-op’s budget process, with all in agreement about the billing cycle, how central office and units are calculated and used, some discussion on psychologists and how they are scheduled differently in the districts, how early childhood is calculated, some discussion on an administrative charge which does not occur at this time
Other items in agreement include keeping an 18-month notice to leave the Co-op; having a rolling yearly contract; everyone being aware of the shortage of quality therapists; and the need for a meeting this month with Co-op employees in order to be as transparent as possible.
The Co-op issue background
School administrators of districts in the Waterford Special Education Co-operative met Feb. 12, discussing a Feb. 4 letter from the Waterford Graded School District board.
Waterford Graded, which pays 54 percent of the Co-op’s budget, is seeking more input on Co-op issues, especially budgetary and financial ones.
Waterford Graded has challenged whether the current Co-op contract, which expired in June 2011, is legally in effect. On Feb. 4, it had demanded that a new contract be negotiated and in place by May 31, or Waterford Graded planned to leave the Co-op on June 30, 2014.
The Feb. 4 letter was sent after a closed session with the Waterford Graded attorney, who had reviewed the current Co-op contract and offered a legal analysis of it, including areas with a potential for litigation.