No labor agreement — yet — in Caldwell district

The Caldwell School District still doesn’t have a contract agreement for 2017-18, and won’t have a deal for several more weeks.

Shalene French

And that’s all Superintendent Shalene French is saying.

“At the conclusion of our mediation on July 17, the federal mediator asked us not to speak about the process,” French said in a brief email to Idaho Education News Wednesday. “She asked us to only share with the media that we will continue mediation Aug. 30.”

Jon Cooper, a teacher and a member of the Caldwell Education Association’s negotiating team, did not respond to a telephone message this week.

In previous interviews, French and Cooper discussed two sticking points in the negotiations.

Teacher salaries. Caldwell uses the career ladder — a salary schedule approved by the 2015 Legislature, which provides pay raises for beginning teachers and teachers with a few years’ experience. But Caldwell’s veteran teachers, about one-fifth of the district’s faculty, do not fit under the career ladder.

The district has proposed a 1.24 percent raise for veteran teachers. The union says the proposal creates two salary tiers — the career ladder, and a more lucrative salary tier for veteran teachers — and provides no way for teachers to move to the more lucrative tier.

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Employee grievances. The union wants to preserve language that allows employees to seek arbitration — as a final and binding step in the grievance process.

The district wants to eliminate arbitration, on the advice of its legal counsel. The problem with arbitration, said French, is that it’s the one step in the grievance process that the district does not govern.

Both sides agree that arbitration is rare. The union could find only one dispute that was settled through arbitration, Cooper said, and this occurred in the early 1990s.

School districts begin their budget and contract years on July 1. It is not uncommon for negotiations or mediation to stretch into a new school year, while teachers work without a new master labor agreement.