Friday, May 11, 2012

District refuses, then releases, draft pay contract

Officials first said agreement wasn’t public information


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Lonnie Barber Steve Guthrie

The Blaine County School District initially refused to release a proposed contract negotiated this week between the district and its teachers' union, but finally issued the documents late Thursday after the Idaho Mountain Express pushed for their release under provisions of Idaho law.

"We're happy to release it after it's ratified by both parties," district Communications Director Heather Crocker had said Wednesday, after the Idaho Mountain Express requested a copy of the agreement.

Crocker said the decision not to release the document until after ratification was agreed upon by district officials and the Blaine County Education Association during negotiations that began on Friday, May 4, and concluded on Monday, May 7.

Because of new Idaho law that went into effect in 2011, negotiations this year, as well as last, were conducted in public. However, district officials this year first took the position that anyone who didn't attend the negotiation sessions was not entitled to the proposed contract.

State law that addresses teacher contract negotiations is documented in Idaho Code 33-1273A. The statute states that not only must discussions be conducted in public but that "all documentation exchanged between the parties during negotiations, including all offers, counteroffers and meeting minutes, shall be subject to public writings disclosure laws."

After the Express demanded copies of the minutes and draft contract, the district emailed them to the newspaper at 3:45 p.m. Thursday, just as the newspaper was going to press. Express staff will review the documents and report on the details of the proposed contract next week.

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A press release issued by the district Thursday afternoon—before the meeting minutes and draft agreement were released—stated that only two members of the public attended the negotiation sessions.

Meanwhile, district officials were not available to comment on the contract. Telephone calls from the Express made Wednesday to board Chairman Steve Guthrie, Superintendent Lonnie Barber and Assistant Superintendent John Blackman were not returned by press deadline Thursday. All three represented the district in contract negotiations.

Tryntje Van Slyke, president of the teachers' union, could not be reached for comment.

Guthrie is quoted in the district press release as describing the negotiations as "positive and productive."

Barber is quoted in the release as saying: "Until ratification, there is no valid contract. We expect ratification to occur early next week."

Van Slyke is quoted as saying: "We were pleased with the process."

Last year's agreement provided for a 2 percent pay increase for union members. District officials applied the same 2 percent increase to all full-time district employees, including five top administrators who represented the district in contract discussions with the union.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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