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      Iron Mountain teachers picket their way to meeting

      618 days.

      Thatâ??s how long teachers in the Iron Mountain School District have been working without a contract. The picketing comes as the school board looks towards increasing revenue and a potential 7.5 percent pay cut for all employees, including administration.

      â??Weâ??re not asking for any raise, we're not asking for a pay cut,â?? said teacher, Lori Cevigney. â??We understand these are tough times and that our school district is in a little bit of a financial bind right now. Weâ??re just asking that we maintain what our last contract had said.â??

      But according to the Michigan Education Association, the district actually is in quite a bit of bind. Theyâ??ve lost over one million dollars in state funding over the last few years. The significant loss in revenue comes as a combination of decreased enrollment and per-pupil funding.

      â??We have a very real financial problem that is solved only by retaining our students and bringing them back to our district,â?? said school board president, Jeff Michaud.

      By law, the district cannot operate under a deficit and is required to resolve it in two years. The plan? The board is working on a deficit elimination plan, or a DEP, which includes fact finding to come up with a non-binding recommendation to resolve the contract disputes. The fact finding includes a neutral third party that helps to find a resolution. A hearing to review information provided by the administration and unions is scheduled for April 22.

      â??We will not accept a 7.5 percent pay cut,â?? said Iron Mountain Education Association member, Brenda Swartout. â??Weâ??re asking for zero percent right now and we feel that's fair and equitable; we feel like we deserve to have our contract honored.â??

      The recommendation for contract negotiations is expected in June; after that, negotiations continue for 60 more days. If, however, an agreement is not reached, the district can impose a contract.

      â??There are long-reaching effects of a pay cut of 7.5 percent on our community,â?? Cevigney said. â??Teachers may have to get second jobs to make up for that money.â??