Teacher talks come down to deadline in Meridian, Nampa

In Meridian and Nampa, union negotiations take different tones as both sides try to move forward.

broberts@idahostatesman.comJune 29, 2013 

A new Idaho law dictates that school district trustees must provide contracts to teachers on July 1.

The law set a one-year limit on the pay and benefit portions of contracts that must begin and end with the fiscal year. Boise reached an agreement that includes a 1 percent pay increase and the addition of two working days for teachers. But, as of June 28, Nampa and Meridian districts still hadn't reached a settlement with their teachers.

In Nampa, trustees agreed Friday to issue contracts with key points that could shift as negotiations continue. The Nampa negotiations - which have sometimes seen tempers flare - are far from closure.

As talks Friday neared the deadline, administrators rejected the union's latest offer of combining pay increases with two weeks of furlough, saying it would leave the district more than $1.8 million in the red for the 2013-14 school year.

Teachers had agreed to the district's proposal of 14 days of furlough, but wanted increases in pay for teacher longevity and a one-time pay bump of 1.67 percent for teachers who are topped out on the district's salary grid.

Mandy Simpson, Nampa Education Association, accused the district of failing to negotiate. "You have wasted my time," she said during Friday negotiations, calling the district's position "insulting."

Additional pay raises, however, could be difficult for the district, which has swirled in red ink and faces a potential deficit for the 2013-14 school year as it recovers from budget problems of overspending that surfaced last August.

"There is no money," said Pete Koehler, interim superintendent. "We are continuing negotiations."

With no common ground in sight, Nampa trustees voted to approve a contract that includes a 14-day furlough and pay increases approved earlier for teachers who get more education.

But even as trustees adopted the contracts, they said that continuing negotiations could change the final contracts.

In Meridian, teachers and administrators moved toward agreement Friday.

Negotiations began with the parties nearly $12 million apart. The union dropped several demands, such as a 1.67 percent pay raise and hiring at least 40 or more new faculty. They ended up $4 million apart.

Teachers are still holding out for pay increases tied to years on the job. The district has agreed to fund one of the so-called "salary lanes," but not two others.

The district also offered to give teachers who have topped out on the salary chart a one-time $1,000 bonus.

That is as far as the board could go and not hurt the district's finances, said Linda Clark, district superintendent.

Amy White, an attorney contracted by the board to conduct negotiations, said the district simply doesn't have money to meet the other requests.

The Meridian district is drawing down its reserve fund to run the schools and make up for state budget cuts, Clark said.

Union officials say they want to continue negotiations late next month.

But the Meridian District Board will meet at 7:30 a.m. Monday to issue a contract under the new law. The board has two choices: issue contracts subject to change from continued negotiations or put its last, best offer into the contracts and end the negotiations, Clark said.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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