Teachers, district close agreement

Unlike some other school districts that recently started their school year with no teachers and no classes, the South Whidbey School District will not fall victim to a teacher's strike or threat of a strike this year.

District teachers will likely get a look at a new contract later this month, a contract that remains under negotiations characterized both by a union representative and the district's superintendent as positive. However, neither side is releasing any details about the proposed contract because they are negotiating under a system that keeps information out of the public eye until the end of talks.

Representatives from the South Whidbey Education Association and school district have been negotiating a two-year contract over the past few weeks. The contract is expected to be outlined at a general meeting of all district teachers prior to the September board of education meeting. South Whidbey Education Association representative Scott Mauk said he believes the teachers will like what they see.

"This has been the best problem-solving negotiation I have been involved with during my six years as president of SWEA," Mauk said. "We've gotten through many issues, and I will recommend ratification."

Superintendent Martin Laster echoed Mauk's upbeat attitude about the negotiations.

"The teams have worked well together," Laster said. "It has been a collaborative effort."

The two men issued a joint statement Sept. 13 that said they expect the teachers' and the school district's negotiating teams to meet once more this month before the teachers vote. The contract will then go before the board of education for approval.

Laster said he, like Mauk, will stand behind the contract.

"I will recommend approval to the board," Laster said. "The school district is the teachers. We want to attract and maintain the quality of staff we have in this district."

The two groups have been involved in a process known as "interest-based bargaining" or IBB, which is also known as mutual gains or win-win bargaining. It is a form of negotiating in which the parties involved look for common ground and attempt to satisfy mutual interests. Traditional bargaining focuses on taking and defending positions.

According to Mauk, one of the tenets of IBB requires parties to the negotiation to release all information to the press jointly.

Both Mauk and Laster agreed that IBB is the way to bargain because it makes the relationship between labor and management less adversarial.

Representing the district in the negotiation are Laster, assistant superintendent Dan Blanton, South Whidbey High School principal Mike Johnson, school board members Ray Gabelein and Barbara Schneeman and district advisor Jim Hobbs. The teachers are represented by Scott Mauk, Lyn Jones, Rachel Kizer and Maura Clevenger.

Negotiations began in early June, then reopened Aug. 27 following a summer hiatus. The negotiating teams have met four times since that date.

Mauk, who served as president of the teachers union for six years, said he will step down this year to spend more time with his family and with his students at Bayview High School.

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