School board ratifies contract |

School board ratifies contract

by Merrie Leininger, staff writer

The Douglas County School Board is pleased that 18 months of contract negotiations are over, but knows the district’s financial battles – and teachers’ frustrations – are not resolved.

The teachers’ association ratified the terms of a new contract Sept. 7, leaving final approval up to the board of trustees. That came at Tuesday’s board meeting in a unanimous decision.

The contract was settled through this school year, but next year’s contract negotiations will begin soon and the board has already turned its attention to getting money from the state Legislature.

Meanwhile, many board members said they hope the teachers will be able to return their attention to the students.

“I think that contract negotiations are always extremely difficult, particularly when they linger. A certain hangover applies because of the difficulties that attend the negotiations. I really hope the teachers and the district can now return full attention to student achievement,” said board member George Echan. “The Legislature has to generate a stable source of revenue for education. I was bargaining for that in the last session. We got nothing. I’m now advised the governor’s budget again does not address the long-term funding for education.”

Board member Michele Lewis said she believes most of the teachers understand the logic behind the contract and that the board supports teachers.

She said a few teachers involved in the Douglas County Professional Educators Association remain committed to voting in new school board members.

“In the latest issue of the teachers’ union newsletter, they state they need to get a board that is more sympathetic to teachers. I think this board understands teachers and has a lot of respect for teachers. I think this board absolutely knows what kind of work teachers put in,” Lewis said. “We also have the utmost amount of respect for Rick Kester’s opinion. When the chief financial officer of the district tells us we don’t have the funding, then we trust him.”

Lewis said, as a board member, she is scared for the district’s financial future, now that the district has lost almost 200 students.

“I think the most important thing is to focus on what we’re about, and that’s the kids,” she said.

Board member David Brady said he believes the contract is reasonable, considering the district’s financial situation. He also said he will work to correct misinformation and frustration among the teachers.

“I was very disconcerted that one of the individuals quoted in the newspaper, which I believe was driven by misinformation, questioned the integrity of (DCSO Business Services Director) Rick Kester. The district and the board and I clearly don’t see that we are trying in any way to shortchange teachers when it comes to finances. That’s not the mentality. It’s not the interest of anybody,” Brady said.

He said he understands the teachers are frustrated because they are not getting the raises they asked for, in addition to doing more work.

“One of the things we’re looking to do is set up meetings at the sites with district administrators, teachers and board members, and we put forth a schedule to meet at a number of the schools,” Brady said.

The two-year contract includes a 1 percent salary increase on the 1998-99 salary schedule by October and a 1 percent bonus on the 2000-2001 schedule for all contracted, certified teachers employed as of Sept. 1, 2000. A 1 percent increase will apply to all stipend salaries as well.

The agreement also gives teachers 15 days sick leave for child or family illness, and the district agreed to absorb the increase in employee and dependent group insurance rate increases for the 2000-2001 school year.