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Douglas County School Board to ratify contract

by Linda Hiller, staff Writer

The Douglas County School Board will vote on a contract ratification Tuesday, following the approval of the district’s latest contract offering by the teacher’s association.

Douglas County teachers who are members of the Douglas County Professional Education Association voted 154 to 89 in favor of accepting the school district’s latest offering of salary and benefit amendments after working without a contract since the 1998-99 school year, a period President Marty Cronin is happy to see almost come to an end.

“I’m just glad this part is over,” he said. “I know the teachers are now hoping for a climate of understanding. We’ve always tried to do the best job we can to educate the kids in our district and we always will.”

Cronin said 243 of the association’s 316 members cast ballots. Among the terms of the accepted contract agreement is a 1 percent raise to be given this year, and a $410 bonus to all teachers. Changes in sick leave are also in the new agreement.

– Association’s statement. Cronin released a statement from the teachers association following the Thursday evening vote and discussion session at the CVIC Hall.

“Debate centered around the acceptability of the terms of the agreement in light of the district’s persistent disregard for teacher concerns and the climate of discord created by continuing breaches of the existing contract by the district administration,” he wrote. “Morale among teachers is extremely low. Many felt that the community needed to be sent a strong message that the district is failing to address teacher concerns and that voting against the agreement would highlight these issues. We have contended for months that the difficulty in coming to a negotiated agreement is only a symptom of the way the district treats its teachers. A revised contract, on these terms, does not mean that these issues have gone away.”

Cronin said in the statement the amount of the raise and bonus were concerns for some teachers, but more emphasized that the public understand the real issues are the direction that the competencies are taking and the failure of the district to accept and address these professional concerns.

“The community should remember our promise of months ago that we never intended to secure more than the district could afford. That promise has been kept,” he wrote. “The community should understand that our focus, in the coming election, will be to broaden the discussion of the direction of this school district. With the agreement behind us, we intend to bring our concerns to the community’s attention and ask for its support in providing a high quality of education for our children.”

– Teacher comments. Several teachers who voted Thursday said they had wrestled with their decisions, citing factors that included student welfare, low morale, respect from the administration or lack thereof, public opinion and other factors that influenced their vote.

“I had reservations, but I voted for it,” said DHS teacher Adam Lazear. “Some of the contract language gave me reservations. I was distraught that the district purposely spent and moved money around to keep it off the salary schedule. It seems extremely underhanded and it almost caused me to vote no as a protest vote. But I am going to refocus my energies to talk to individuals house-to-house and try to change the school board to be more receptive to our needs and kids’ needs.”

“I voted against the contract,” said DHS teacher Bill Zabelsky. “A lot of people I know voted against it, but then I think that most people may be fed up and may have voted for it just to get it over with. Morale is at an all-time low in the district – this has divided the teachers, and I’m afraid it may be a case of divide and conquer.”

Zabelsky was the teacher’s association president for nine years prior to Cronin.

“I had been through initial meetings (as treasurer of the executive board of the Douglas County Professional Educators Association) and had known how I was going to vote,” said Kathy Garcia, from Jacks Valley Elementary School. “But there were a lot of teachers that had concerns. There were a lot of questions and discussions. After a lot of thought, I do support the agreement. I do have reservations.”

Todd Davis from Scarselli Elementary School said he voted against the contract because of the low raise and new sick leave wording.

“The district is offering us nothing but a slap in the face. One percent is ridiculous,” he said. “My wife works in private industry and one of her co-workers only got a 4 percent raise and quit.”

Davis said the new wording of the sick leave policy, requiring a doctor’s statement in the case of suspected sick leave abuse, is degrading to the teachers.

“And, the reasoning behind the sick leave clause is phony because they already have in place a way to check sick leave. This contract makes us look guilty even before we’re sick.

“Most people don’t abuse sick leave.”

Davis joined fellow teachers and association members in want-

ing to focus on the bigger picture, changing the attitude of the school board or the school board itself.

“I felt that a negative vote sends the board a message that we don’t support them, he said.

“I mean no disparaging comments about the negotiating team – they’ve worked very hard, but it’s just not the right contract for us.”

“I was on the fence for a long time,” said teacher Hal Starratt. “But after hearing the arguments tonight, I support it. I thought it was a good argument about if we get hung up in arbitration then nothing will get settled. We should take this settlement and then bargain some more and really up the ante. I think the district needs to be more responsive to teachers.”

– Let’s move forward. School board member Dave Brady said he is pleased the vote was positive.

“I’m glad to see that we are going to be able to get this completed and put behind us so we can get on with the business of educating our children,” Brady said from Salt Lake City Friday. “Considering there weren’t any modifications made to the proposal we approved, I’ll be inclined to vote for ratification.”

DCSD Business Services Administrator Rick Kester said he, too, was happy the negotiations were moving forward.

“It took a long time to get here, and both sides worked very hard. We need to get on with the business of educating our kids. I’m glad to have one piece of this over.”

Kester said the sick leave changes involve allowing a teacher more days to stay home with a sick child – from eight days to 15 days.

“That’s a plus for the teachers,” he said.

The other part of the sick leave wording is not intended to harass teachers, but to allow for checks and balances against anyone who might be abusing their sick leave.

“Ninety percent of the teachers have nothing to worry about,” he said. “We want to make sure teachers are judiciously using sick leave the way its intended to be used. The verification language is not intended to punish or harass teachers, but we would like to make sure that the leave is justified.”

– What happens next. Cronin said the next step will be taken at Tuesday’s school board meeting at Zephyr Cove.

“This will go to the school board for ratification next week,” he said.

“We’ll continue to move forward and raise issues. We haven’t announced our endorsements of candidates, but we’ll be doing that shortly.”

The district employes 458 teachers.

Starting salary is $28,446 before taxes in Douglas County. A teacher with 20 years or more experience and a master’s degree plus 32 credits earns $52,224 a year.

Teachers with doctorates earn $52,724.