Friday, May 13, 2011

Board approves teacher contract

Administrators will benefit most from new salary agreement


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer


Information provided by the Blaine County School District shows the district’s top 10 highest paid employees, their current annual salaries and what their new salaries will be effective July 1. Contracts are for 240 work days per year, except for principals who are contracted for 220 days per year and Howard Royal, director of buildings and grounds, who is contracted for 260 days per year.

The Blaine County School District board of trustees unanimously approved a new contract Tuesday with the Blaine County Education Association that provides a 2 percent pay increase and other perks in salaries and benefits.

The education association, often referred to as the "teachers' union," ratified the agreement Monday by a vote of 133-2. With approval by both groups, the new agreement and pay raises will go into effect on July 1 at the beginning of the new fiscal year.

The issue of pay raises has been hotly debated recently in the Wood River Valley, with most of the discussion focused on teachers. It has ignored the fact that the biggest financial beneficiaries from the agreement will not be teachers, but administrators, five of whom represented the school district in negotiations with the union that were concluded on May 3.

As has been past practice, the school district will apply provisions of the agreement not just to teachers but to all of the district's 539 full-time employees.

Prior to Tuesday's school board vote, board Chairwoman Julie Dahlgren described the new contract as a "win-win agreement."

The vote was 4-0. The motion for approval was made by Trustee Steve Guthrie and seconded by Trustee Daniel Parke. Dahlgren and Trustee Kathryn Graves voted in the affirmative while Trustee Paul Bates recused himself from the discussion and vote. Bates didn't explain his reason, but presumably it was because he has been in a longtime relationship with a teacher at Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum.

There wasn't much discussion anyway.

"Thank goodness, we're able to take care of teachers," Guthrie said.

In response to a question from Graves, district Business Manager Mike Chatterton said money obligated by the new agreement will come from a reserve in the general fund.

The reserve, often referred to as a "rainy day fund," is made possible by a permanent "stabilization levy" that allows the district to collect about $30 million annually in property tax assessments for operating expenses. The reserve currently stands at about $13 million.

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The negotiations

Eleven of the 12 people involved in negotiations between the district and the education association will benefit financially from the new agreement. The only exception is Dahlgren, who serves on the school board without pay. Six teachers represented the education association and Dahlgren and five administrators represented the school district.

All five administrators will receive some of the largest pay increases because of the new agreement. According to information provided by the school district, Superintendent Lonnie Barber's annual salary will jump from $155,000 to $158,000 and Assistant Superintendent John Blackman's annual pay will go from $118,000 to $120,000.

District Business Manager Mike Chatterton will see an increase from $108,000 to $110,000, Wood River Middle School Principal Fritz Peters' salary will go from $101,000 to $106,300 and Curriculum Director Patricia McLean will get a salary increase from $101,000 to $103,000.

The district explained in a memo to the Idaho Mountain Express that some administrators will receive more than 2 percent because of provisions in their contracts that provide for a 3 percent salary increase every other year.

For teachers, 2 percent pay increases will range from $775 to $1,633 annually.

With the increases, the lowest paid teachers in the district will now make $39,518 annually and the highest paid teachers $83,288 per year.

The average annual salary for school district employees, including administrators, teachers and support staff is $57,280.

In an interview Wednesday, Dahlgren said she doesn't see a conflict-of-interest in having administrators who will benefit from the new contract represent the school district in negotiations because the agreement was still subject to school board approval.

"The school board didn't have to approve last night," Dahlgren said.

Furthermore, she said all district employees deserved a pay increase.

"No matter who they are, they all contribute to the education of our children," Dahlgren said. "I think the board has the welfare of the entire district in mind and I think it's fair for all employees to get a cost-of-living increase."

Dahlgren said the district now has the funds and "that's part of the picture that we were able to do it."

The agreement

The school district currently pays total annual salaries to its 539 full-time employees of $30,874,300. A 2 percent across-the-board increase will raise that amount by about $600,000.

Also, as part of the agreement, the district will keep in place a "steps and ladders" program that allows some teachers to receive an additional 3 percent pay raise for increasing their experience or education. That will cost the district another $610,000 next year.

Furthermore, the district agreed to pay an additional $300,000 next year to maintain the same level of health, dental and life insurance, which is provided cost-free to employees.

The district agreed to use federal economic stimulus money it received this year to give teachers at the top of the pay scale, and no longer eligible for "steps and ladders" raises, a one-time 1 percent increase for next year. That will cost about $94,000.

The district also will use about $389,000 in economic stimulus money for one-time disbursements into qualifying employees' retirement accounts. Dahlgren said the funds will be divided among 477 eligible employees.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com

Board election

Today is the final day to cast absentee ballots for the Blaine County School District trustee election for southern Blaine County.

Absentee ballots can be cast until 5 p.m. at the Old Blaine County Courthouse at 206 First Ave. S. in Hailey.

The election takes place on Tuesday, May 17, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and involves only voters living in school district trustee Zone 1, encompassing south Bellevue, Carey and the remainder of southern Blaine County. Bellevue resident Hallie Kelly Star and Carey resident Shawn Bennion are seeking the school board seat now held by Trustee Daniel Parke, who did not file for reelection.

Bellevue residents living in Precinct 10 should vote at the Bellevue Elementary School library. Residents of the Gannett and Picabo areas in Precinct 11 are to vote at the Silver Creek Convenience Store in Picabo. Carey area residents in Precinct 12 can vote at Carey City Hall.

If you are uncertain where to vote, visit the election page at www.blainecounty.org and click on the "Where do I vote" link.




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