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Teachers OK 3-year contract

After weeks of bargaining, South Whidbey school teachers voted Friday to accept a three-year contract with the school district.

While they weren't given a pay raise, teachers will see a slight increase in their checks this year, thanks to added planning and curriculum day compensation.

A tentative agreement on the new contract was reached between the South Whidbey Education Association and the South Whidbey School District on Sept. 25 and was presented to teachers the next evening in a closed meeting.

In all, 105 teachers, about 80 percent, voted on the contract. Seventy-four percent voted to approve the contract.

To be final, the contract must now be approved by the South Whidbey Board of Education. Board president Ray Gabelein has placed the contract on the board's agenda for an Oct. 14 special meeting.

Unlike those in Snohomish and Issaquah schools this fall, South Whidbey teachers did not strike over contract negotiations. They have been working without a contract since the first day of school. Given the financial woes of the school district this year, teachers did not expect salary increases, according to SWEA vice president Rachel Kizer.

"This contract is the best we could get under the current circumstances," Kizer said. "Teachers generally agreed that with the huge hole in the district's budget created by the state's cuts, there was no way to increase compensation by as much as teachers would have liked without impacting class size or programs."

To give teachers a small increase in pay, they will be given another paid planning day on top of the seven for which they are currently paid.

One of three training days funded by the state in 2000 was cut by the legislature for the coming biennium, so teachers were also offered one day of curriculum development pay, about $150. Finally, teachers were offered an improved incentive for not taking two annual personal days. If neither personal day is used, the employees will be compensated $200; they will receive $50 for one day not taken.

"If teachers take advantage of these offerings they will receive approximately a 1 to 1.5-percent boost in pay on top of the state cost of living adjustment," said Kizer of the pay gains.

Taken together, the days can boost teacher pay to offset losses on health care premiums. Those premiums could cause teachers to see their net pay go down for the third year in a row,.

The new president of SWEA, Lynn James, a second-grade teacher at South Whidbey Primary School, is concerned about the cost of health care, citing her own family's costs which have risen to $630 above the district's contribution.

"Health care is an issue everywhere," she said. "Something has to be done on the state level and the district has to help us."

In addition to the day changes most classroom teachers receive, special education specialists will be released from classroom work two days per year to keep up with state and federal paperwork requirements.

Teachers also negotiated a date change in possible reduction in layoff notification -- called reduction in force, or RIF, by the district -- from April 15 to May 15. Due to budget reductions, a possible RIF list was issued last April. Those proposed reductions proved to be unnecessary. It was decided during the bargaining that it was the in the mutual interests of both parties to publish a RIF list only if layoffs are certain.

Another important factor in the negotiations was class size. Teachers union and district representatives agreed to equalize class size and mix among teachers of the same grade level where possible. The contract recommends a class size of 24 students in kindergarten through second grade, 25 for third through fifth grade and 26 in sixth-grade classes.

However, though teachers union leaders applauded the negotiation process, they were reluctant to laud the agreement itself.

"The process was extremely collaborative and constructive," Kizer said. "But it is clear that the district doesn't have the resources to meet the needs of the teachers."

The negotiations were the last for outgoing SWEA president Scott Mauk. He applauded the IBB process.

"We have worked hard to nurture a positive relationship with the district through the bargaining process," he said.

Interest-Based Bargaining
During this year's teacher's contract negotiations, the South Whidbey School District and the teachers union used interest-based bargaining, or IBB, during the negotiation process. It is a form of bargaining in which both parties look for common ground and attempt to satisfy mutual interests. Traditional bargaining focuses on demanding and taking positions.

The mutual interests agreed upon at the beginning of this year's contract negotiations were:

  • Schools will be outstanding in all ways
  • All decisions will advance the success of students
  • Ensure financial health of the district
  • Staff will be treated equitably and fairly
  • All staff will have the tools they need to helps students achieve success
  • The district will retain and attract outstanding personnel
  • Provide professional support, maintain and advance the trust and support of community
  • Pledge to work inside the system and outside the system to insure all of the above.

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