Archive for Thursday, August 2, 2007

Teacher negotiations hit impasse

August 2, 2007

For the second time in three years, negotiations between the Eudora National Education Association and the Eudora USD 491 Board of Education have hit an impasse.

After failing to meet for a bargaining session since June, the district filed a document last month requesting the impasse. The decision opens the door for professional mediation if no progress is made.

"I think there was a real lack of progress toward an agreement ---- particularly on salary and benefits," Eudora schools superintendent Marty Kobza said.

The two groups were scheduled to meet June 6, but the district's counsel, Curtis Tideman with Lathrop & Gage canceled because of family obligations.

Vacation times and family obligations also made it impossible for the teachers' negotiation team to meet until August, lead negotiator Bruce Lindskog said. Lindskog is the director of the Prairie Fire Uniserv.

"I think what irritated the teachers was that while we recognized their need for honoring family commitments, the board seemed to downplay or boohoo the idea we had family commitments," Lindskog said.

The decision to declare impasse came after the district sent a salary proposal to the ENEA.

The district proposed a two-year contract with a net increase of $1,000 in base pay for the 2007-2008 school year and another $1,000 increase in base pay for the following year.

The current base teacher salary is $31,400. In addition to the base salary, the district pays $240 as a defined benefit for health care coverage. The proposal adds an additional $10 to the benefit for the coming school year and another $10 for the following school year.

Because of the vacation and family schedules, the ENEA team hasn't had the opportunity to discuss the proposal face-to-face.

"We, of course, were all dispersed doing various activities, but we made an effort to get our team together by e-mail and put together a counter proposal back to the board, but before we could get that done, the board simply declared impasse," Lindskog said.

The district had wanted to have a deal in place by the start of the school year.

"The impasse gets certain processes or steps in motion that establish benchmarks for time," Kobza said.

Should work with a mediator fail, then the negotiations would enter into a fact-finding stage.

Fact-finding is an adjudicated process, which means both sides would have the opportunity to present evidence to a fact finder and the fact finder would make the decision.

Once the decision is made, it's sent to both parties within 10 days to choose whether to accept the fact finder's decision and make settlement or not. If the teachers decide not to accept the settlement, the board has the authority to establish a unilateral contract and each teacher would have the choice to accept the contract or not.

The district's decision to declare an impasse leaves the ENEA with three options at this point in negotiations, Lindskog said.

The first option would be to also declare a single-party impasse and start the mediation process. Should the ENEA decide to do that, a mediator would work with both sides during the bargaining sessions, Lindskog said.

The next option would start legal proceedings to contend the district bargained in bad faith.

The third option would be to ignore the impasse and offer a counter-proposal during an August meeting.

"There's still the possibility both parties will continue the regular bargaining process," Lindskog said.

The district also looks for the possibility of regular bargaining resuming.

"We are definitely willing to go to the table and once we meet, we will bring a counter-proposal for our salary and benefits," ENEA President Bob Sailler said. "We are prepared to do that."

"The real desire is to progress," Kobza said.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.