Mediator hires come under scrutiny

The Nampa and Meridian school districts each spent more than $10,000 in legal fees for teacher contract negotiations — a process that is still ongoing for 2013-14.

The Idaho Statesman’s Bill Roberts wrote about the process Monday, less than a week after Idaho Education Association officials took districts to task for hiring outside contract negotiators.

Nampa has spent $13,077.50, reported Roberts; Meridian has spent $10,809.

In both cases, the districts hired attorney Amy White to negotiate on their behalf.

Both districts are facing financial straits. Nampa has had to impose unpaid furlough days, among other moves to reduce a deficit; Meridian’s budget reserves have dwindled, and officials say the district may face a financial crisis if voters do not renew a supplemental levy in 2014.

But officials for the districts say the outside hiring was appropriate. Nampa had no experienced negotiators on staff, district spokeswoman Allison Westfall told Roberts. Meridian first hired outside help in 2012-13, when negotiations turned “hostile,” Superintendent Linda Clark told Roberts.

The IEA criticized the outside hires Wednesday, when a legislative interim committee met to discuss school labor laws, among other K-12 issues. During its presentation, the teachers’ union said districts should be required to be “completely transparent” about the cost of hiring outside negotiators.

Six school districts hired outside negotiators, the IEA said Wednesday. And Nampa and Meridian still haven’t completed master agreements for 2013-14 — more than three months after the July 1 start of the budget year. The districts set financial terms on July 1 — under a state law allowing districts to impose their last best contract offer. The two districts haven’t settled on non-financial issues, however — and will now go to mediation. But even that is a dicey proposition; Meridian’s mediation is on hold, a casualty of the federal government shutdown.