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Teacher negotiations at standstill

by Merrie Leininger

Negotiations between the Douglas County School District and its teacher association are at a standstill, as ground rules have yet to be determined.

The Douglas County Professional Education Association, headed by president Marty Cronin, a Douglas High School teacher, has refused to negotiate with the district using the same rules the district has used for 20 years, said John Soderman, assistant superintendent of personnel.

The two groups met in March and May and a third meeting set for June 25 was canceled.

“They would like to have us share the responsibility of the moving party,” Soderman said. “They want to change the contract, so we want their proposals. That’s how we’ve always done it.”

Cronin explained the ground rules apply to when each party would bring its offers to the table. The association would like both parties to exchange their proposals at the same time, while the district wants to stick to the same ground rules in which the association submits its demands in full, then the district has time to go over them and respond.

Because of this disagreement, Cronin said the agreement reached at the March meeting was to abolish the ground rules. However, when the association came to the May meeting with a proposal on changes in contract language only, the district refused to accept the incomplete package.

In a “negotiations update” memo Soderman wrote, he said the meeting ended after the association retracted its package.

“We agreed to accept the proposals offered so that we could speed up the process. We reiterated, however, we would not respond to a partial look at the scope of negotiations and that formal negotiations would start after we had received all of their proposals,” Soderman wrote. “The DCPEA decided not to provide any of the proposals they had prepared, indicated there was nothing further to discuss, and ended the second meeting.”

Cronin said Soderman reneged on the agreement not to abide by the ground rules that had always been used in the past.

“It is true it has been close to 20 years the ground rules have remained the same. The association’s perception at this point is that the ground rules are unfair because they cause us to initiate negotiations without the district’s position,” Cronin said. “In the past, they have used the ground rules in a way to complicate negotiations; not to communicate effectively.”

Cronin said the association hopes to streamline the process by both parties bringing their positions to the table at the same time.

“Their present position makes it pretty pointless to initiate a conversation, but that won’t keep us from attempting to advance elements of our package and it will be up to the district then,” he said. “The association will be initiating another request to meet the week prior to school starting.”

Cronin said the teacher’s association is hoping to change language of the contract that has meant disagreements between the association and the district in the past, causing the association to file grievances against the district.

“The grounds for grievances have been unclear language that has made it difficult to make a determination,”he said.

Cronin said the association also plans on asking for a raise.

“We believe there is a potential for raises in the existing budget that will not adversely affect education in Douglas County. We’re not seeking raises at the cost of education of Douglas County,” he said.

Soderman said a starting teacher with no experience and a bachelor’s degree starts at $28,446 in Douglas County. At the other end, a teacher with 20 years or more of experience and a master’s degree plus 32 credits earns $52,224 a year. Teachers with a doctorate are paid $52,724.

All teachers also get health and accident insurance and retirement pay.

The teachers’ contracts were up June 30, but there is language in the contract, and state laws, that do not allow the teachers to strike. The “evergreen” language calls for all teachers to continue to work under the conditions of the expired contract until a new agreement is made.