Teachers, district hammer out contract | SierraSun.com

Teachers, district hammer out contract

After almost nine frustrating months of negotiations, the teachers in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District finally have a retroactive contract for the 2001-02 school year that recently came to a close.

Late last week, members of the TTEA (the union) negotiating team and the district broke a month-long impasse, averted fact-finding, and reached a tentative agreement that was later ratified by TTEA members.

All that remains is a formal approval from the district’s board of trustees, which is expected to take place at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on June 26.

“We’ve got mixed feelings on the settlement,” said Nancy Kerr, a TTEA negotiator and Sierra Mountain Middle School teacher. “It wasn’t quite what we had hoped for, but we do feel that we received pretty much all that was left for us in the budget at the end of the year.”

The final agreement included: a 2.36 percent increase in the salary schedule, stipends for speech and language personnel, 67 percent of all dollars remaining that are beyond the district’s 4 percent designated reserve for economic uncertainty and a $24.10 per month increase in the district’s contribution towards health benefits.

“That $24 increase is really just a drop in the bucket, though, when you consider the continued health care costs we’re expected to face,” Kerr said.

Skyrocketing health care costs have been the lightening rod issue for teachers throughout negotiations after out-of-pocket costs increased $85 per month last summer and are likely to increase an additional $119 per month starting July 1 for the least expensive plan.

“The teachers put a lot of trust in their negotiators, and for them to accept this contract, sends a message that says, ‘We’ll ratify this now, but we need to be a priority next year,'” Kerr said. “As of now, we’ve been given a commitment by the district that this won’t happen again and that negotiations will be dealt with first thing in the fall. It’s really time that teachers be treated as a priority.”

The final stipulation of the 2001/02 contract calls for next year’s negotiations between TTEA and the district to commence by Sept. 15, with the district committing to offer it’s last, best and final offer on or before Nov. 30.

“By that time, we’ll have calculated our ending balance from the previous year, received the State budget and have a good idea of our student enrollment figures,” said TTUSD School Superintendent Pat Gemma. “We really do want to work with our teachers in a more timely manner than occurred this year.”

Gemma said he has conflicting feelings about this year’s agreement.

“I’m very happy that an agreement has been reached, although at times I’m not sure if it’s a win-win or a lose-lose situation,” Gemma said. “I know that a lot of the teachers are disappointed that they aren’t receiving COLA (cost of living adjustment), and knowing that they’re disappointed makes me disappointed.”

Gemma said he also worries that the district is likely to end the 2001/02 year with less than a 4 percent reserve for economic uncertainty.

“I believe that we’re actually going to see a deficit spending year in which we spent more money than we took in,” he said. “We’ve already had to cut programs for next year – increasing some class sizes from 28-to-1 to 29-to-1, closing the district office one day a week and making cuts in our administration. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to reach an agreement in the future without having to cut additional programs.”

In an effort to increase the efficiency of next year’s negotiations, TTEA has already presented the district with a list of contract proposals for the following year including:

— An increase in salary schedule equivalent to State COLA, plus 1.15 percent to compensate for the below average salary settlement this year.

— An increase in stipends paid for athletic and other extra-curricular activities, funded independent of the teacher’s compensation package.

— A shift in payment of insurance premiums, from a flat dollar cap to an 80-to-20 percent, district to teacher ratio (as proposed this past session).

“If the 80-20 percent floating cap is established, we wouldn’t need to go through the process of negotiating benefits on top of salaries each year,” Kerr said. “As of now, we only see the issue of health care costs getting worse and worse, and it’s a burden that we should face together, with our employer, rather than always having it fall on our shoulders.”

Gemma said he feels that both sides learned from and shared valuable information during this year’s negotiations – information he hopes to take into next year’s session.

“Both sides have a common enemy and that enemy is the state’s economy, as public education is so dependent on that economy,” Gemma said. “It’s times like this that we’re going to have to remain united and strong as a district if we’re going to make it through.”

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