Archive for Thursday, May 25, 2006

Fact-finding continues negotiations

May 25, 2006

The Eudora National Educator's Association and representatives from the USD 491 Board of Education continued their struggle to come to terms on a contract for the 2005-2006 school year during a May 17 fact-finding hearing.

Frank Ybarra heard both sides of the issue during the five-and-a-half-hour meeting.

The hearing came as a result of a negotiation impasse reached earlier in the year.

Throughout the year, the teachers have been requesting a higher yearly base salary of $30,400 and $240 per month per teacher for insurance benefits.

Citing budget issues, the district has been staunch in its offer of a $30,200 base salary to the teachers and $200 a month per teacher for insurance benefits.

Both sides stood firm during the hearing, as both sides read opening statements, had the chance to cross-examine various witnesses brought to the stand and read a closing statement.

The first to speak was Bruce Lindskog, director of Prairie Fire UniServ, on behalf of the ENEA.

"We began this process some time ago and found that throughout the lapse of time we have been unable to reach an agreement," Lindskog said

The crux of the teacher's argument at the hearing focused on comparative teacher salaries and the fact the raises the teachers seek could be found within the budget.

"Our exhibits will demonstrate the district's ability to pay and the fact the district is not keeping pace with the economic growth of the community itself," Lindskog said.

The district's lawyer, Curtis Tideman, argued the district had given the teachers a fair offer. Also during testimony Tideman argued the legitimacy of comparing to other districts.

"In essence, there really was one issue today stated in different forms, and the issue for you to decide is what the pay for teachers ought to be, or more properly what you think should have been for the 2005-2006 school year," Tideman said.

As Lindskog built the teachers' case, he called English teachers Matt Bova and ENEA president Bob Sailler to be witnesses.

Bova's testimony first outlined the character of the negotiations to date and the setbacks leading to the impasse.

"The whole process was sort of a slow laborious process. The board's position at the table was to take each request back to a regularly scheduled board meeting which tended to push our regular negotiation meeting back a couple weeks," Bova said. "So we were kind of log jammed in that respect."

Bova also testified about the need for compensation for lost plan time because of the districts' policies that increase collaboration time between teachers.

"Some teachers had to give up substantial amounts of their own plan time," Bova said.

The loss of plan time was another unsettled item at the time of impasse.

A point covered in Sailler's testimony was the money the teachers saw within the district's budget.

Sailler said he found odd the fact the district budgeted money for capital improvements in the general fund as opposed to a capital outlay fund.

Teachers' salaries can only come from the general fund whereas capital outlay monies have to be spent on capital improvements for the district.

"One of the things Mr. (Mark) Chrislip told us is he admitted that salaries in Eudora have fallen behind and one of the reasons for that is that the board has been spending money out of the general fund for capital outlay projects due to land assessment," Sailler said.

During the cross-examination, Tideman asked Sailler where he would cut the budget to provide money for the teachers.

"I don't believe I can cut anything. I think we will demonstrate that there is money in the budget for our raises, I think that is what this document is about," Sailler said.

After Sailler stepped down, Lindskog led Ybarra through a binder containing facts relating to the negotiations to date, including extensive information in comparative salaries, correspondences passed between both parties and copies of the district's budget.

The district maintained it has been as fair as possible with its offer.

The first witness called for the district was boardmember Mark Chrislip, who was part of the district's negotiating team.

"I felt like my role was to hear what they said and also understand their tone and reason and what was behind what was said so it would come to the board fairly," Chrislip said.

Superintendent Marty Kobza testified for the majority of Tideman's presentation.

The district's main points showed that the district is average among the state in terms of teachers' raises and median income.

Kobza also remarked that paying teachers for lost plan time would create something he wouldn't like. It would mean less flexibility in the classroom environment, Kobza said.

As to the budget, Kobza and Tideman both maintained the money the ENEA requested couldn't be placed into teachers salaries without causing the district to cut programs elsewhere.

"We have an obligation for the student number one, then the teacher, then the tax payer," Kobza said.

Kobza maintained the budget is a living, breathing document and the extra money was necessary in its maintenance.

Both sides made a closing statement and will await the word from Ybarra.

"It would be my desire and the sincerest hope that I would have a final report to the parties in the mail by June 1," Ybarra said.

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