Negotiating school districts turn to mediators

Two of Idaho’s largest school districts turned to outside mediators to help settle contract negotiations for  2013-14.

Twin Falls logo
Twin Falls School District

On Monday, Twin Falls School District trustees and the Twin Falls Education Association each ratified master agreements.

The two sides met with a mediator for one day on July 2, coming to the terms that were ratified Monday.

In eastern Idaho, the Bonneville Joint School District and its teachers also called in a mediator. But they don’t expect to return to the bargaining table until approximately Aug. 20.

Based on State Department of Education enrollment records, Bonneville is the fifth largest district in the state, while Twin Falls ranks eighth.

Although the new fiscal year began July 1, several large districts have yet to come to contract terms. Negotiations resume in the Nampa School District – the state’s third largest – on July 18.

In somewhat of a surprise announcement, officials in Meridian announced negotiations will resume in late July, but talks will not address salary or benefits issues.

Like what you’re reading? Sign up for our weekly newsletter »

In Twin Falls, a deal was reached after the district agreed to two professional development days to prepare for Idaho Core Standards, and to pay for education credits and one year of experience pay that had been frozen on the salary table, human resources director Beth Pendergrass said.

In return, teachers agreed to increase their insurance deductible by $250 – up to $1,000.

There was no change in the number of contract days from 2012-13, Pendergrass said. The two professional development days were outlined in a memorandum of understanding.

Bonneville logo
Bonnneville Joint School District

Bonneville officials also hope mediation will break their logjam. Deputy Superintendent Marjean McConnell said changes to labor and bargaining laws over the previous three years played a role in extending negotiations.

“For us it’s been (about) what goes back in the master agreement and what is going in board policy,” McConnell said. “We just look at it in terms of where should that rest for us. That’s our issue: Where do those documents belong?”

Under the 2011 Students Come First laws, master agreement negotiations were limited to salary and benefits issues only. Voters repealed those laws in November, meaning the scope of negotiations can include a litany of issues such as classroom aides, class size or union rights.

Bonneville teachers already received their new contracts based around last year’s terms, as well as a document stipulating salaries and benefits could change subject to a new agreement.

McConnell, who said the district has brought in a mediator once before during her 10-year tenure, said the two sides hoped to bring in their mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service earlier, but were unable to get a schedule worked out.

Twin Falls’ negotiation teams also worked with a MFCS mediator.

“We want to get it solved as soon as we can; I think that’s important to all of us,” McConnell said. “We don’t want to drag this on. We want to go through the process and do it right.”

In other eastern Idaho bargaining news, Jefferson County School District board members ratified their 2013-14 agreements on Wednesday night, the Post Register reported. Jefferson County’s teachers ratified the deal earlier on July 5.

“We were at an impasse and all of the sudden the district called … and said, ‘We’ll give you what you want,'” Jefferson County Education Association President Marilynn Smith told the Post Register (subscription required to access Post Register).

Even at this stage of the summer, it isn’t clear how many districts have ratified agreements. Officials and teachers in large districts such as Boise and Idaho Falls reached deals weeks ago, but there is no central agency or department that has thus far tracked negotiations across the state.

Three weeks ago Idaho School Boards Association President Karen Echeverria told Idaho Education News, “What we have found is most smaller school districts have come to terms and larger ones are still negotiating.”

Echeverria could not be reached for comment Thursday.