Teachers union begins annual negotiations | SierraSun.com

Teachers union begins annual negotiations

Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunTruckee High teacher Susan Lowder uses the Sympodium Thursday to teach honors science to a ninth-grade class. Tahoe Truckee Unified School District teachers are working while their union bargains with the district over a new contract.

The Tahoe-Truckee school district and teachers union, after locking horns during contract talks the last two years, are once again at the negotiating table.

Only time will tell if this year’s talks prove less contentious.

For the past two years, the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District and Tahoe Truckee Education Association have called in state mediators to help solve problems that neither district nor union negotiators could resolve on their own.

Last year, teachers carried picket signs outside their campuses protesting the district’s offers. The annual standoff leaves some wondering why the two sides can’t work out a contract that covers more than a single year.

“Last year we asked for a multi-year contract so we wouldn’t have to do this every year,” said Jim Driscoll, the president of the teachers union.

Lead negotiator for Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, Jo Lynn Wilson said the district would like the same thing.

“I think multi-year contracts are great; it gives [everyone] a chance to breathe and it [establishes] a sense of trust,” Wilson said.

According to Wilson, who is also the district’s interim superintendent, promising teachers long-term salary increases and benefits is difficult because the district relies on property taxes and fluctuating property values.

The 11-school Tahoe-Truckee district is a basic aid district. That means instead of receiving a share of statewide property taxes pooled by the state and doled out according to average daily attendance, Tahoe Truckee Unified keeps all local revenues generated from property taxes.

“Figures don’t begin to come in until the beginning of August,” Wilson said. “With the housing market dropping, it is hard to know what our income will be.”

The Tahoe-Truckee district collected $27.4 million in property taxes for the 2006-07 fiscal year. That number reflects more than 62 percent of the district’s annual revenue.

Another factor may be the soaring cost of health care, said Communications Officer Mike Myslinsky of the California Teacher’s Association. He said some local unions reopen negotiations every year in search of better benefits.

“What the union does is create a collective bargaining agreement,” Myslinsky said.

The bargaining can include salary, health care, working conditions and retirement benefits, Myslinsky said.

Last year, teachers won a 9.5 percent increase in salaries to compensate them for the high cost of living in the Tahoe-Truckee area, according to Scott Beaudry, the union’s lead negotiator.

Beaudry said negotiators will again seek a salary increase with an enhanced health benefits package in an effort to attract qualified teachers.

“We are looking to increase salaries to a professional level,” he said.

According to statistics on the educational Web site Ed-Data, starting annual pay for a Tahoe-Truckee teacher is more than $400 higher than the state average, yet as a teacher earns more college credits, known as columns on the teacher’s pay scale, the local district pays thousands less than the state average.

Beaudry said union representatives presented salary-and-benefit proposals at two meetings in October and now await an offer from the district. The district’s interim superintendent said teachers can expect an offer within two weeks.

“We have met, and at our next meeting we will give a counterproposal,” Wilson said.

That meeting is scheduled for Nov.14. Wilson said non-teaching employees known as classified employees will begin bargaining for their contracts after a meeting Wednesday with district negotiators.

Praising the district’s leadership, the teacher union’s Driscoll said he hopes this year’s negotiations prove less contentious than in some years.

“We are hopeful that this can get resolved with dispatch,” he said.

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