Summer school: Some districts still at work on teacher contracts

(UPDATED, 10:21 a.m., July 5, to clarify status of Caldwell’s negotiation process.)

In Caldwell, district and teachers’ union negotiators are still looking for an agreement — but the delay doesn’t have that much to do with dollars.

The district wants to award raises based on the career ladder, Idaho’s five-year plan to boost teacher salaries. Depending on experience, and educational credentials, a young teacher could get an 11 to 13 percent raise.

But what does the Caldwell School District do to reward veteran teachers, who wouldn’t qualify for a pay raise under the career ladder? That’s going to be one topic on the table during a July 17 mediation session.

The 2017 Legislature approved the third and most expensive installment of the career ladder, providing school districts and charter schools an additional $61.9 million for teacher pay. The extra money is designed to help schools attract and retain teachers. But as the 2017-18 contract year begins on July 1, raises will vary widely between school districts. And in some districts, the negotiation process will continue into July, and into the new budget year.

Here’s where things stand, in several districts across the state.

Caldwell’s career ladder conundrum

To understand the situation in Caldwell, let’s first review the career ladder.

Passed by the Legislature in 2015, the career ladder is ultimately a voluntary program. Districts can simply take the extra money from the state and plug it into their old salary tables. Or districts can run the money through the career ladder template.

Caldwell has chosen the latter route. That means adopting the career ladder and its limitations.

The Legislature deliberately structured the career ladder to provide pay raises for beginning teachers and younger teachers. Pay remains relatively flat for veteran teachers, and maxes out at $50,000. However, districts can add local dollars to the state’s teacher salary pool — and many districts do.

The career ladder has helped Caldwell boost pay for its younger teachers, Superintendent Shalene French said. The vast majority of Caldwell’s 350 teachers fit under the career ladder — and the district has proposed giving these teachers raises in line with the career ladder law.

For veteran teachers, roughly a fifth of the faculty, Caldwell has proposed a 1.24 percent raise — but French says the state needs to do more to reward experienced teachers. “We’re tied to that state funding, and we really need to work together to help with that top end.”

The Caldwell Education Association opposes the district’s proposal. The problem is structural. In essence, the union says the district’s plan creates two salary schedules: one for teachers who fall under the career ladder, and another for higher-paid veteran teachers. And it’s impossible for teachers to move from the career ladder schedule to the more lucrative veterans’  salary schedule, said Jon Cooper, a Canyon Springs High School history teacher and a member of the union’s negotiating team.

As mediation looms next month, both Cooper and French are hopeful.

“Our position has always been that we’re willing to meet them halfway,” Cooper said. “It’s not necessarily a zero-sum game.”

We’ll come to an agreement,” French said.

Back and forth in Blaine County

Blaine County has historically paid the highest teacher salaries in Idaho — supplementing state dollars with local money, as many districts do.

But this year, teacher salaries were a contentious point in contract negotiations.

One point wasn’t in dispute. The Blaine County School District will put $1 million into automatic raises in its teacher salary schedule, funding pay raises of 1 to 3 percent, depending on experience and education.

In May, district and union negotiators agreed to put an additional $90,000 into one-time bonuses. But when it came time for a ratification vote, teachers rejected the offer.

When negotiators went back to the bargaining table, they agreed on an additional 1 percent pay increase for teachers. This will cost the district about $277,000. To offset some of the cost to the district, teachers agreed to an increase in insurance deductibles, from $300 to $750.

This time around, teachers ratified the agreement. Trustees followed suit.

Negotiations were tough — and margins are slim — because the district is trying to hold the line after years of deficit spending. Blaine County avoided using budget reserves to cover 2016-17 costs, for the first time since 2011-12; the district hopes to do the same in 2017-18..

Pushing the deadline

Beyond Caldwell, negotiations in several other districts have gone down to the wire — or beyond:

Pocatello-Chubbuck: The district and the teachers’ union are still looking for common ground on salaries and contract days. Mediation is scheduled for Aug. 29, district spokeswoman Shelley Allen said.

West Ada: The state’s largest district came up with a tentative agreement after a mediation session earlier this week. The district will receive an additional $5 million in career ladder funding, and the new money would translate into teacher raises ranging from 4 to 12 percent. Teachers are expected to hold a ratification vote on July 10, and trustees could take up the proposed agreement on July 11, spokesman Eric Exline said.

Coeur d’Alene: Negotiators reached a tentative agreement last week. Under the district’s salary schedule, the agreement would add 2 percent to the salary base. Eligible 20- and 25-year teaching veterans would receive longevity stipends of $2,150 and $2,650, respectively. The teachers’ union and trustees are scheduled to vote on the plan on July 10, spokesman Scott Maben said.

Smooth sailing — this time around

Two districts had a relatively easy time coming up with agreements for 2017-18, an outcome that defied recent history.

In Eastern Idaho’s Sugar-Salem School District, it took only one meeting to hammer out an agreement, Superintendent Alan Dunn said this week. Under the career ladder, teachers stand to get raises of at least 6 percent, and the district agreed to pick up the increased cost of insurance premiums.

Last year, Sugar-Salem didn’t have an agreement in place until late October.

The Nampa School District cut a 2017-18 deal in mid-May — a far cry from 2016-17, when negotiations continued into September. It was the first time in four years that administrators and the teachers union reached an agreement without having to bring in a mediator.

The district’s salary schedule will provide raises ranging from 3.6 percent to 7.4 percent, while insurance premiums remain unchanged.

A few more thumbnails

Some quick hits from the negotiations process around Idaho:

Idaho Falls: The district wrapped up its 2017-18 deal in May. As Idaho Falls continues to implement the career ladder, teacher raises should average 6 percent, spokeswoman Margaret Wimborne said.

Twin Falls: In another deal finalized in May, all employees will receive pay increases of at least 3 percent. The career ladder has helped Twin Falls attract and retain teachers, but district officials still say it’s challenging to hang onto more experienced teachers.

Vallivue: Negotiations were “uneventful,” Superintendent Pat Charlton said. Base pay will increase by 2 percent, across the board, and the district will pick up a 4 1/2 percent increase in insurance premiums.

More reading: An in-depth look at the career ladder, and its effect on teacher salaries.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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