Nampa union rejects furlough proposal

The Nampa School District and the local teachers’ union are 14 days and $3.5 million apart.

Two weeks after the district proposed 14 furlough days for 2013-14, in a bid to cut $2.6 million from a projected $3.5 million shortfall, the Nampa Education Association came back with its counteroffer Thursday night.

Nampa negotiations, 6.13.13
The Nampa School District and the teachers’ union will meet for another negotiating session Wednesday night.

The union is proposing no furlough days — and is seeking a 1.67 percent increase in teacher pay.

The union isn’t convinced the district has a shortfall.

“The district hasn’t been transparent with everything,” NEA President Mandy Simpson said Thursday night, after a two-hour negotiating session.

District officials had no immediate response to the counteroffer, and the two sides will meet again Wednesday. That’s less than two weeks before the start of the district’s new budget year.

Thursday night’s negotiating session was emotional. Simpson fought back tears during her presentation, when she argued that the district has already made $6.2 million in budget cuts while finding nearly $15.4 million in new revenues. Most of that new money comes from voter-approved property tax levies and a $6.3 million line of credit designed to cover short-term expenses until Aug. 15, when districts receive a portion of their 2013-14 state appropriation.

District officials said Nampa’s budget problems are real. The district had to borrow $3.5 million on its line of credit this week to meet payroll, Interim Superintendent Pete Koehler said.

“It’s not like money’s hiding,” said Amy White, an attorney negotiating on the district’s behalf.

After a series of accounting errors, compounded over several years, the Nampa district projected a deficit of some $5.1 million for 2012-13. After a series of budget cuts — such as closing Sunny Ridge Elementary School, outsourcing janitorial services and cutting administrative jobs — the district is still projecting a $3.5 million shortfall for 2013-14.

The School Board will meet Tuesday to discuss the 2013-14 budget — even as contract negotiations remain unresolved.

The furloughs are the centerpiece of the district’s deficit-cutting plan, and are comparable to furloughs other districts imposed during the economic downturn. The union has called the offer “untenable,” especially since educators are being expected to teach to new Idaho Core Standards, and has said the furloughs “could have a devastating impact on public education in Nampa.”

As the furlough debate unfolds, the Nampa district is expecting a teacher turnover rate of 12 percent or more. This is higher than previous years — when nearby districts cut budgets by imposing furloughs, and Nampa stood pat.

Koehler said the schools have lost some experienced teachers and are having trouble filling jobs in areas such as special education. Generally, however, schools are finding teachers to fill vacancies.

“It’s not a happy number,” Koehler said of the turnover rate, “but it’s not overwhelming, as far as I can see.”