Friday, May 6, 2011

Teachers negotiate pay increases

Cost-of-living adjustment to go to all district employees


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

John Blackman

The Blaine County Education Association negotiated a 2 percent cost-of-living increase in contract discussions that ended this week with the Blaine County School District.

The agreement is still subject to approval by the association and the district board of trustees. District Assistant Superintendent John Blackman said Wednesday that if approved, the pay increase will be given to all district employees and not just members of the association.

District Business Manager Mike Chatterton said the increase would cost the district about $600,000 annually.

It would go into effect in July at the beginning of fiscal 2012.

Contract negotiations, which started last week, ran for four days and were concluded on Tuesday. The district provided a copy of the tentative contract, usually referred to as the master agreement, to the Idaho Mountain Express on Wednesday.

Because of changes in Idaho law, negotiations for the first time were held in public and were restricted to salary and benefits. Other provisions in prior years' agreements, including grievance and layoff procedures and performance-evaluation processes, will now need to be implemented as district policy subject only to approval by the district board of trustees.

The teachers association is scheduled to vote on the contract on Monday. According to an announcement posted on the district website, a meeting closed to the public will be held by the association starting at 4 p.m. at the Community Campus in Hailey. It will be followed by a public meeting in which votes will be cast and counted, as required by new Idaho law.

The district board of trustees is scheduled to consider the contract at its May board meeting Tuesday.

The 2 percent increase raises the base pay of all teachers in the district's salary scale. At the low end of the scale, a starting teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience will be raised from an annual salary of $38,743 to $39,518.

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At the high end of the scale, the annual salary for a teacher with a master's degree and at least 20 years experience will be increased from $81,655 to $83,288.

The increase in base pay is the first the teachers have received in three years. Last year and the year before, they agreed to a wage freeze because of the state of the economy.

Blackman said the pay increase seems moderate.

"The teachers didn't come in and ask for the sky," he said. "We thought it was reasonable and we appreciate the fact that our teachers didn't ask for an increase for two years.

"We understand that everybody's hurting, but teachers are hurting, too, with no cost-of-living increase in the past two years."

Also as part of the negotiations, the district agreed to leave a "steps-and-ladders" system in place, which allows for annual increases of about 3 percent as teachers increase their experience or education. With the cost-of-living increase, teachers qualifying for steps-and-ladders pay raises will receive a salary about 5 percent higher in the coming year.

Chatterton said that retaining the steps-and-ladders system will cost the district an additional $610,000 next year.

The steps-and-ladders scale ends at 20 years experience, so to compensate teachers who reached the end of the pay scale, the district agreed to fund a one-year-only 1 percent increase that will be paid from federal economic stimulus money.

Benefits were changed little, other than the district's agreeing to pay an additional $300,000 to meet inflationary costs for health, dental and life insurance to provide the same level of protection for employees.

Tryntje Van Slyke, president of the teachers association, issued the following statement to the Express: "The process went smoothly and we produced an agreement we think we can all live with. This is the first new money added to our salary schedule in three years.

"The BCEA is pleased that the district chose to acknowledge and honor the extra workload that our teachers have handled over the past three years. We have had an avalanche of new programs, technology and curriculum to be trained in to implement and integrate into our classrooms. The data management required by federal, state and district initiatives alone can be overwhelming in terms of time and focus."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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