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Teachers respond to longevity stipend concerns


January 20, 2010
ALTON — The recent re-emergence of the controversy surrounding a misinterpretation of language in a past contract that led to the overpayment of several teachers' longevity stipends between 2004 and 2007 has prompted the Alton Teachers' Association to re-but accusations that it de-frauded local taxpayers.

In recent months, a group of residents led by former school board member Steve Parker have repeatedly called on school district officials to investigate how language in the ATA's 2004 Master Agreement granting teachers who had given the district at least 10 years of service an annual longevity stipend of $500 was misinterpreted, with the stipends paid out cumulatively ($500 the first year, $1,000 the second year, and $1,500 the third year).

During a heated confrontation with the school board on Dec. 14, Parker read a statement accusing the ATA of de-frauding Alton taxpayers of $94,000 in overpaid stipends, and an additional $62,500 in the form of a buy-out included in the 2007 Master Agreement for teachers who had been receiving longevity stipends.

In response to Parker's accusations, ATA President Scott Bickford explained in a statement issued on the union's behalf Jan. 19 that the longevity stipends were put into the 2004 contract as a way to reward "those loyal and dedicated teachers who did not leave the Alton School District during difficult times, when teachers were not granted new contracts over a number of years" and the district experienced a high rate of turnover.

According to Bickford's statement, when the teachers selected to receive longevity stipends noticed that the stipends were being paid out cumulatively, rather than at the flat rate of $500 they thought they had negotiated, the ATA immediately brought the issue to the attention of the superintendent at that time, who informed union officials that the stipends were intended to be cumulative.

After being made aware of the error, he explained, the school board set out to put a stop to the cumulative payments during negotiations for the ATA's current contract.

The longevity buyout (which was proposed by the board), he added, resulted from those negotiations, with teachers who had been receiving stipends offered a one-time payment in 2008 that was less than what they would have received had the stipends continued.

Look for Bickford's complete statement in the letters to the editor section of the Jan. 28 edition of The Baysider.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

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