Meridian district and union fail to strike a deal

Meridian School District officials and teachers were unable to reach a master agreement following two hours of labor negotiations Friday night.

The district’s existing contract expires Monday, the first day of the 2013-14 budget year, but the groups will not reconvene before then.

Meridian School DistrictInstead, they made tentative plans to continue negotiating in late July.

The two sticking points — funding experience steps on the teacher salary table and one day’s difference in the contract calendar — represent $4 million.

Even though no deal was struck, Meridian trustees will meet Monday morning to issue contracts for 2013-14.

Amy White, an attorney who represented the district during negotiations, declined to speculate how the district will handle the salary and benefits sections of the new contracts.

“No idea,” White said. “I don’t have a vote.”

While they could not ratify a deal, the two sides made $8 million worth of progress on Friday, their ninth bargaining session since February. Friday’s tone was mostly cordial and professional, with only one or two tense moments.

Meridian Education Association representatives sought a 1.67 percent across-the-board raise to base salaries, down from an earlier request of 4 percent. The union also sought a 186-day calendar, saying teachers needed as much time and professional development as possible to prepare for implementing Idaho Core Standards.

White’s offer from the district included a 185-day calendar and no across-the-board raise. She proposed a $1,000 bonus for teachers who were maxed-out on the salary table, and restoring funding nine education “cells” on the district’s salary table.

Union officials accepted the nine cells and the bonus, but stuck to their 186-day calendar. Union negotiators also pushed for full funding of three steps worth of experience on the salary grid, while White and district officials were willing to pay for only one step.

This amounted to a difference of slightly more than $3 million – the bulk of the gap between the two sides.

After the meeting, Idaho Education Association Region 3 Director Harry McCarty, who assisted the Meridian teachers’ union, speculated that the new contracts issued Monday would need to be amended once the sides resume negotiations.

In the interim, McCarty speculated the new contracts could list “to be determined” under salaries and benefits or include the district’s last best offer.

White did not use the term “last best offer.” But White did not have a better offer to present after the union accepted only portions of her final counteroffer.

“I pinched every penny I could and worked to find the best (offer) I could bring forward in this proposal,” White said.

Negotiations broke up after two hours when White did not submit a final counteroffer.

“Obviously this puts us in a bit of quandary – essentially asking us to counter our own counter,” said teachers’ union lead negotiator Susan Colvard.

After the meeting, Colvard, a high school math and business technology teacher, said she did not feel the need to reach a deal Friday night even though contracts expire Monday.

“We didn’t feel pressure for that deadline,” Colvard said. “We came in hoping for some movement from the district.”

Colvard, who has been active with the local teachers’ union for six years, said she did see some movement from the district but still hopes to negotiate the best possible deal for Meridian’s teachers.

Fourteen people attended Friday’s session, including several teachers and recently elected school board members Tina Dean and Carol Sayles – who have yet to be sworn in and did not take part in the negotiations.

As of Friday, three days before the start of the new budget year, two of Idaho’s three largest districts have not  reached master agreements. Nampa negotiators also failed to strike a deal Friday.

This year, White represented the Meridian, Nampa, Twin Falls and Wilder school districts in labor negotiations. As of Friday night, White said the Wilder district was the only one of the four to ratify 2013-14 agreements.