Teacher, school district negotiations hit impasse | RecordCourier.com
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Teacher, school district negotiations hit impasse

by Merrie Leininger

Negotiations between the Douglas County School District and the teacher’s union have reached an impasse and the two groups will now have to work through an arbitrator.

Both DCPEA President Marty Cronin and Assistant Superintendent of Personnel John Soderman refused to comment on specifics of the negotiations based on ground rule agreements.

Before the arbitration can begin, however a complaint filed by the district against the teacher’s association will be heard by the Employee Management Relations Board.

District Communication Liaison Maggie Allen said the complaint was filed because the district feels the association had not allowed regular negotiations to take place and prematurely declared an impasse.

Cronin said the association had met the statutory requirements of attending at least four meetings and were forced to declare an impasse to protect themselves.

“The reason we declared impasse was a belief there was no progress in the negotiations to that point. It gives an element of protection to employees to make an impasse decision,” Cronin said. “We even suggested mediation and that was declined by the district and I think that also represents our good-faith efforts to resolve the issues.”

Allen said if the district is found to be correct in its complaint that the association should not have declared an impasse, both parties must go back to the table and attempt negotiations again. If the ruling is in favor of the teacher’s association, the matter goes into arbitration.

Allen said the arbitrator can also order both sides to try again before he makes a ruling. That ruling is final and binding.

“The arbitrator can say, ‘I want you to go back and you can have three weeks to try to reach an agreement or do some fact finding to allow you to find other ways to settle this,'” Allen said.

Allen said this is an unusual incident. She said in most cases, arbitrators are called in to settle one or two final matters, but not the whole contract. For example, she said the district is involved in arbitration now with the food service’s union on the one issue they couldn’t reach consensus on – salary.

In 1979, an arbitrator was called in to help with four issues – salary, graduate credit, teacher preparation time and responsibility for student supervision. Allen said this was the last instance she could find of such extensive negotiations requiring arbitration.

n Negotiations. Rick Kester, director of business services for the district, gave information about the district’s financial position.

“We came into this year with a reasonable financial condition, but the difficulty is the financial position is worse next year because of declining enrollment and we’re very reluctant to make the problem worse,” Kester said. “We’re not crying we’re broke, but we are saying it is a very difficult financial stretch.”

Cronin said the teachers would never ask for something that would hurt the quality of education.

“Certainly, as I’ve said before, any compensation change initiated by the teachers is going to take the fiscal health of the district into account. We don’t make requests for salary lightly. We have analyzed the financial health of the district and believe the education of students is not at risk,” Cronin said. “Teachers are putting forth a tremendous effort in meeting competencies and education reform.”

According to a negotiations update memo for administrators, the DCPEA has refused to discuss anything, including salary. Because of that, the district filed the Employee Management Relations Board complaint.

“The purpose of negotiations is to determine priorities and to solve as many problems as possible by thorough, honest discussion,” Soderman wrote. “Just when those discussions began, the DCPEA team declared impasse and left. We never even had the chance to counter salary and other money proposals presented by the DCPEA or receive their counters to our proposals.”

According to “The Teacher Advocate,” newsletter written by the Douglas County Professional Educators Association, the district has been “regressive and punitive,” and has told the DCPEA the district “indeed had money that would add up to a reasonable raise, but that the district had no intention of giving it to teachers.”

The teachers’ newsletter said the district has insisted on bringing an already-agreed upon insurance premium increase into the negotiation process.

“The association signed off on the increase in May when the district insurance committee agreed to the new package and costs. The district has paid the increased employee premiums since July, yet now the district wants to use the increase as a bargaining chip during negotiations,” the newsletter reads.

Because of the impasse, both parties will now have to turn over their complete proposals to a third party from the arbitration association.

According to the DCPEA’s newsletter, this process will take about two to three months longer.

“An impasse is an all or nothing proposition. An arbitrator studies both sides’ packages of proposals and picks the one package that they believe to be more fair and comparable to other Nevada districts,” the DCPEA newsletter said. “The package that we advance has to contain only the items that are most important to us.”

Other issues both sides have addressed in written proposals are number of sick days and personal days, pay for sick days and salary, according to the written information from both camps.

n Salaries. A starting teacher with no experience and a bachelor’s degree earns $28,446 before taxes in Douglas County. At the other end, a teacher with 20 years or more of experience and a masters degree plus 32 credits is paid $52,224 a year. Teachers with a doctorate earn $52,724.

All teachers also receive health, accident insurance and retirement pay. There are 458 teachers in the district.

The teachers’ contracts were up June 30. Language in the contract and state laws does 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.