ANDERSON — With one week left before a new Anderson Community Schools board takes office, the outgoing board on Thursday approved a litigious and controversial teachers union contract that school officials argue will bankrupt the system.
Two members — Tim Long and Irma Hampton Stewart — voted against the contract proposal, approval of which was greeted by a standing ovation from teachers and union members who made up roughly half of an audience of about 175 people.
Of four members who voted for the contract — Teddy Bohnenkamp, Tobi Jones, Keith Millikan and William Riffe — only Millikan’s term extends beyond July 1. Board president P.T. Morgan, who did not cast a vote because the motion passed, also will leave the board at the end of June.
Stewart had sued those five board members, alleging they acted illegally in negotitating the contract directly with Anderson Federation of Teachers President Rick Muir. The current contract was not set to expire for more than two years.
Before a brief meeting peppered with sniping between board members, Muir met individually with board members including Millikan, Morgan and Riffe in hallways outside the gymnasium where other members waited. The proposal that Muir presented to the board was modified after the meeting began.
Bohnenkamp’s motion to approve the contract stipulated that its structure also be applied to ACS administrators.
Before the board voted, Stewart asked Morgan whether he stood by his testimony in court that the contract could bankrupt the system.
“Is it the position of the board that this contract will bankrupt the corporation?” Stewart asked to applause. No members volunteered a response.
Millikan said he was voting in favor of the contract in an effort to save some of the jobs of about 165 teachers laid off at the end of the school year.
Long said he voted against the contract for several reasons. “I believe there are substantial legal problems,” he said.
“We’re giving away 3 or 4 million dollars when we don’t have that money to work with,” Long said.
The contract approval comes at a time when ACS has closed four elementary schools and consolidated to one high school effective this fall. Student enrollment continues to plummet and with that decline come millions less in state tax support.
ACS’s financial crisis is well documented and includes forecasts of insolvency by 2012 that have been forwarded in official correspondence to the Indiana Department of Education.
ACS Business Manager Kevin Brown testified recently that, in a best-case scenario, without concessions from teachers and staff, the ACS deficit would be $4.2 million in 2011. Worst case, $11.1 million. Brown previously wrote that similar AFT contract proposals would have “disastrous effects” on the school corporation.
Brown declined comment after Thursday’s vote.
“I have no reason to second-guess Mr. Brown’s knowledge,” ACS Superintendent Felix Chow said after the board voted to approve the contract. “Based on his calculations, we’ll go down faster” because of the contract approval, Chow said.
Separately, the board approved payment of legal bills for a special counsel who represented the five members named in Stewart’s suit, but the amount was not disclosed during the public meeting.
Asked after the meeting how much attorney Geoffery Lohman would be paid, Morgan said, “You’ll have to ask Mr. Brown. I have no idea.”
Brown said Lohman’s bill through June 15 was $24,692.