Friday, May 24, 2013

Board approves teachers’ contract

New agreement will cost district $1.14 million

Express Staff Writer

Top, Lonnie Barber; above, Mike Chatterton

     The Blaine County School District board of trustees voted 4-0 Tuesday to approve a new contract with the Blaine County Education Association.

     Trustee Paul Bates recused himself from the vote, saying he did so “in order to avoid any conflicts of interest.” Bates did not explain his reason, but presumably it was because he has been involved in a long-term relationship with a teacher at Hemingway Elementary School.

     The contract was approved by the Education Association, often referred to as the teachers’ union, on Monday by a vote of 121-2.

     School board approval came at a 17-minute long special meeting late Tuesday afternoon.

     The agreement between the district and the teachers’ union was finalized last Friday, May 17. The new contract goes into effect with the beginning of fiscal year 2014 on July 1.

     The contract provides for a 1.25 percent pay increase in the base salary for teachers, an increase in payments to retirement accounts and an increase in payments for health insurance.

     In an interview Thursday, district Business Manager Mike Chatterton said the total cost to the district with the new contract provisions will be $1.14 million, with $475,000 accountable for the salary increases, $523,000 for increased health insurance costs and $142,000 for increased payments into teacher retirement accounts.

     Chatterton explained that the increased health insurance payments will maintain the current benefit level but are necessary because of a 4 percent increase in premiums. He said the increase in payments to retirement accounts is necessary because of a new state law requiring that school districts pay a larger portion into the retirement system.

     The new contract also provides for continuation of the district’s “steps and lanes” program, wherein teachers can move to a higher salary grade with years of experience and by furthering their education.

     Chatterton said that increased salaries—because of the steps and lanes program—costs the district about $750,000 each year.

     The new contract will establish a teacher pay range starting at a low of $35,438 annually to a high of $85,172.

     The school board will decide at its next regular meeting on June 11 whether the 1.25 percent pay increase will be given to all district staff, such as has been the practice with the district in the past.

     Negotiations were conducted on May 9, May 10, May 16 and May 17. Under state law, they were open to the public.

     Members of the district negotiating team were Chatterton, board Chairman Steve Guthrie, Superintendent Lonnie Barber, Assistant Superintendent John Blackman and Wood River Middle School Principal Fritz Peters.

     Representing the teachers’ union were association President Tryntje Van Slyke and association board members Maritt Wolfrom, Kari Haugen, Jamie Harding, Erika Greenberg and Michael Walsh.

     At Tuesday’s board meeting, Barber described the new agreement as acceptable to all parties involved in negotiations.

     “We do feel good about it, but it really doesn’t keep up with inflation,” Barber said.

     In answer to questions from the board, Barber explained the district has the resources to easily pay new costs resulting from the contract.

     “We’re solvent for a number of years out,” Barber said.

Terry Smith:

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