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Unions, district finalize contracts

Teachers and bus drivers almost unanimously approved new contracts with the South Whidbey School District. In both cases contract approval was almost a shut out. The teacher’s union approved its new 2-year contract 105 to 1. The Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, approved its contract 38-to-3 for an agreement beginning Aug. 31 to Aug. 31, 2008.

The school board ratified both contracts earlier this week.

Superintendent Bob Brown said both groups recognized the district’s financial position and negotiated in a collegial manner.

Rachel Kizer, a middle school science teacher and a member of the negotiating team, said teachers were pleased with their new contract.

“In the seven years I’ve negotiated for teachers, we’ve never had this clear of a majority,” Kizer said.

“We completed negotiations in the spirit of problem solving and working together. The result is that we feel valued with this contract,” she said.

For teachers the new contract is a recognition by the district of the work they do and their value to students.

While teachers will not see raises per se, they will see additional money in their bank accounts from extra paid days and contributions to their medical premiums.

The district will pay $50 per teacher per month toward their health care premiums. Previously, teachers were asked to bear this cost of the health care subsidy for retired teachers’ health care. Teachers requested the change because increasing medical costs are not being met by the state. Most teachers still have hefty monthly premium payments; a family of four pays from $400 to $500.

Teachers will also see an increase in paid planning and training days from 8 to 10 the first year, and 10 to 11 the second year. They are currently paid for 182 days a year; the increase in paid days recognizes the extra time teachers work before and after school.

“It is a recognition by the district that teachers do a tremendous amount of work outside the school day. Next year we will be paid for 192 days,” Kizer said.

Other improvements give teachers the ability to plan how they will spend some of their half days used for planning.

Previously, the administration or school principals planned the activities for those days.

The change gives teachers time to work with colleagues or study new curriculum.

The mileage reimbursement for employees was also increased from 27 cents a mile to the 37.5 cents per mile.

Another contract revision: The SWEA leadership will form a committee this fall to revise language covering “reduction in force” cuts, and the group will address the numerous personnel categories that exist in the contract to create clear, concise language should layoffs be necessary in 2007.

Kizer said teachers were pleased with the addition of parents and primary-care givers to bereavement leave language.

The new contract also recognizes health care benefits for domestic partners and their dependents.

“This recognizes that families come in all shapes and sizes,” she said.

The SWEA administrative bargaining team was Bernie Mahar, principal at the Primary School, Superintendent Robert Brown, Diane Watson, special services director, Ben Thomas, business manager and Director Rich Parker.

Teachers were represented by Greg Alarid, representative of the Washington Education Association, Don Zisette, SWEA president and teachers Rachel Kizer, Lynn James and Robin Roberts.

All members of SEIU — bus drivers, maintenance, custodial and food service staff — will see their salaries increased incrementally for the length of the contract. And health care authority payments will be in line with SWEA.

“Thanks to our bargaining teams we were able to arrive at a document acceptable to both parties,” said Dan Carter, SEIU president.

With the new contract, workers will see raises as required by I-732, and those will be partially funded by the state. Total cost to the district is $19,000.

“We were able to work together, each side gave some,” Carter said. “These sessions were much improved over negotiations in previous years.”

Extended days will also be provided for food service workers, at a cost of $2,500 to the district.

Non-economic language included in the new contract also provides a documentation process should issues come up about employee performance.

It gives both unions the ability to discuss negotiated items with the district should there ever be a double-levy failure. The new contract also gives food service staff the opportunity to comment on utilization of the district’s kitchens.

Ben Thomas, a member of both administrative negotiating teams, said the negotiations were conducted in very friendly manner.

“I was proud to be part of the process,” Thomas said.

Administrative bargaining team for the SEIU agreement was Brown, superintendent, Thomas, business manger, staff members John Willson and Kay-Lynn Wild and Board of Education directors Bobby Riggs and Greg Gilles.

The 67-member Public Services Employees union, representing secretaries and para educators, has a contract until 2007.

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