Coeur d’Alene negotiations: an overview

It’s the second week of school in the Coeur d’Alene School District, and teachers are working without a contract.

While several of Idaho’s largest school districts have long since settled on contracts for 2014-15, the state’s sixth-largest district is still trying to craft a deal.

Here’s an overview.

What are the issues? One big issue is one familiar to many school districts — rising health insurance costs. The district is expecting a $500,000 increase; the Coeur d’Alene Education Association is asking the district to absorb the costs, to prevent a decrease in employee take-home pay.

Both parties have agreed to offer pay raises to teachers based on experience and education — but as the Coeur d’Alene Press reported last month, the two sides disagree on the cost. The union pegs the cost at $350,000; the district’s estimate is $700,000.

The district is wrestling a tight budget for 2014-15: a $65 million general fund, down from $67.8 million a year ago. And as a result, the district is cutting money earmarked for salaries and benefits — line items that, taken together, account for nearly 84 percent of the district’s general fund.

A flap over administrative raises: Still several district administrators received raises of 4 to 23 percent. While the raises make up only $104,000 of the $67.8 million budget for 2013-14, union members decry the move, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported this week.

“I realize that people are going to look at it sideways,” Superintendent Matt Handelman told the Coeur d’Alene Press. “But there are decisions that must be made administratively to maintain and keep a team.”

Make trustees ‘uncomfortable:’ In an Aug. 29 Facebook page post, the Coeur d’Alene Education Association urges supporters to attend board meetings, contact trustees — and “engage” trustees in conversation in the community, at a store or at church. “Human behavior suggests that the primary reasons people change their behavior is for personal reward, or because it is no longer comfortable to continue doing the same thing. The time has come to make the life of a school board member uncomfortable.”

The post struck up a lively conversation on Huckleberries Online, the popular blog hosted by D.F. Oliveria of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. Asked Oliveria: “Izzit just me — or are you also bothered by the idea that the local education association is advocating that its members confront trustees at the store, at church, etc.?”

So, what happened this week? Dozens of district employees gathered at Monday’s School Board meeting to protest the possible reduction in take-home pay. Speaking to the Coeur d’Alene Press, union president Derek Kohles described the gathering as a “peaceful, professional action.”

The sentiments resonated with School Board chairwoman Christa Hazel. “I noticed many familiar faces in the audience and their presence impacted me personally,” Hazel wrote this week. “I understand there are real world ramifications that have financial impact for staff and for our district.”

What’s next? The two sides are headed to mediation.