Healthcare coverage stalls labor negotiations in Sugar-Salem

SUGAR CITY – Labor negotiations have reached a deadlock in the Sugar-Salem School District.

Amanda Beal of the Standard Journal reported last week that the impasse started on June 22, after trustees placed healthcare coverage on the chopping block in order to help ease the district’s financial woes. Administrators say the district can continue to cover healthcare costs for employees but can no longer pay family premiums and provide the raises members of the local teachers’ union are requesting.

Sugar-Salem superintendent Alan Dunn
Sugar-Salem superintendent Alan Dunn

Sugar-Salem will enter the 2016-17 with less than 2 percent in carryover funds. Surrounding districts will start 2016-17 with more than 5 percent, according to board member Doug McBride .

Members of the Sugar-Salem Education Association say a portion of the pay they are requesting comes through the state’s $125 million career ladder and shouldn’t affect insurance benefits. The career ladder allocates an $800 annual bonus for teachers with at least 24 higher education credits beyond a bachelor’s degree. Teachers holding master’s degrees will get a $1,400 bonus via the measure.

“We believe this bonus should be off the table for negotiations, as we understand it is provided by the state to reward individuals’ effort and accomplishment,” SSEA members wrote in a counterproposal.

In addition to the educational bonuses, however, the SSEA wants a 4.5 percent increase on actual teacher salaries received last year, as well as a promise from the district to table increases in teacher contract days for another year.

“We just can’t do everything,” said board chair Kristin Galbriath.

A professional mediator has been hired to help the parties reach a resolution on July 25 at 4 p.m.

But time is of the essence. The deadline for signing 2016-17 contracts in Sugar-Salem is July 22 – three days before the next scheduled negotiation meeting. SSEA president Cathy Nelson told the Standard Journal that many teachers are reluctant to sign contracts before an agreement is reached.

Some of these teachers are planning to look for work in the larger Madison district if cuts to health coverage for family members are made, Nelson said.

According to superintendent Alan Dunn, the district had no control over the July 25 mediation date, which was one of the few the mediator had available.

Dunn added that contracts being offered to teachers are reflective of last year’s but will be updated once the board and union reach an agreement for 2016-17.

Sugar-Salem is in East Idaho, 30 miles northeast of Idaho Falls.