Teacher contract negotiations remain unsettled within the Delano School District

October 15, 2007

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

While not unusual for teacher contract negotiations to go into fall, teachers at Delano Schools and the Delano School Board are still a bit away from reaching a contract agreement.

Some teachers within the district have posted messages on their web sites stating: “Delano Teachers are presently working with an expired contract. Web sites will not be updated until a contract settlement has been reached. We are focusing our efforts on working with our students. Please contact the superintendent, Dr. John Sweet, if you have questions.”

The Delano School Board and Delano Teachers Association (DTA) have been meeting since July 31 on a fairly regular basis to attempt to reach an agreement, said Delano School Board Chairperson Becky Schaust in a press release to local media.

“The board cannot begin negotiations until we have the relevant funding information from the state legislature and premium costs from our insurance providers,” Schaust said in the release.

Teacher contracts are negotiated every two years, and Schaust said last week that while teachers want the board to start negotiating as early as possible in the summer, nothing can be done until it is known what funding will be coming from the state legislature.

“We did begin negotiations as early as we could,” Schaust said. Funding from the state came in at a 2 percent increase for the first year, and a 1 percent increase for the second year.

Another large issue Delano is facing is an 18.5 percent increase in health insurance premiums. The press release said the DTA has insisted that the insurance program remains unchanged regarding benefits and the school district’s contribution, which is 100 percent of the single premium, 90 percent of the $200 deductible family plan, and 77 percent of the $100 deductible family plan.

Schaust said that increases have been lower in the past few years, and she said the larger increase was not a huge surprise to the school board.

The school board organized several informational meetings about ways to adjust the current coverage, as well as a Voluntary Employee Benefits Association (VEBA) plan that would offer another option to the insurance program that the school board believes would benefit employees by allowing them to participate and manage their health care, and would benefit the district by reducing premiums.

“DTA has shown little interest in these concepts or adjusting the coverage, so the school board has structured its salary and benefits offers with that in mind,” Schaust said in the release.

The school board’s last offer to DTA was 4.94 percent the first year, and 4.22 the second year, which includes both salary and health benefit increases (9.16 percent total). The press release said DTA’s initial proposal was in excess of 20 percent, and their last proposal was 12.32 percent, according to the press release.

“Recently, teachers have been taking a non-participation approach, which means staff does not participate in staff development classes, newsletters, support groups, referendum, posting grades to the parent portal, or attending various committee meetings,” Schaust said in the press release.

“DTA is trying to leverage parents to act on their behalf regarding contract negotiations by cutting off essential communications via newsletters and web sites,” she said in the press release.

The release continued to say the school board does not support this practice, as teachers cannot act in the best interest of the students by isolating parents or using non-support of the bond/levy referendum as a tool to further their personal interests.

“I don’t believe it’s a common practice,” Sweet said of the non-participation. “As it says (in the press release), you can’t instruct or educate children by isolating parents.”

Schaust said she feels families and students are being affected by their inability to communicate with their teachers on things that are non-classroom related.

Even though contract is expired, it is still in effect

State law states “after contract expiration, the terms of the existing contract shall continue in effect and shall be enforceable upon both parties.”

The school board continues to live up to its obligations under the contract that is in effect, and will continue to do so, according to Schaust.

Sweet noted it is not uncommon to have negotiations continue into the fall. Delano’s contract two years ago was finalized in October 2005.

“There are many districts that aren’t settled,” Sweet said. “There are more that aren’t than those that are.”

In its press release, the position of the board is that it will continue to negotiate in good faith in coming to an agreement.

“We will remain committed to maintaining the well-being of the district, the financial effects on the taxpayers, while maintaining our overriding commitment that the students of the district must always come first,” according to the press release.

When contacted for a comment, Delano Teachers Association President Dan Paulson said in a written statement that the “Delano Teachers’ Association is hopeful we can settle a contract through the collective bargaining process as expediently as possible.”

Schaust said the public needs to understand the board is not trying to make lives miserable, and said “every nickel we can possibly put toward the teachers – we’re giving them.”

“I feel so bad it’s come to this,” she said. “It takes the focus off doing the best possible things for our students, and that’s unfortunate.

“We have to work together for the whole good of the district. We’re all in this together. We have to act accordingly.”

What effect will the negotiations have on the upcoming referendum?

Schaust said the upcoming referendum that will be on the ballot this fall really has nothing to do with the contract negotiations that are taking place.

“I see them as separate issues from a voter standpoint,” Schaust said.

The labor contract is part of the employment contract with teachers, and that’s part of the overall day-to-day operations of school, she said.

The referendum is long-term planning for space for the entire district, she added.

She said other than the two becoming politically connected, they don’t have much to do with each other.

“Whether the referendum passes or not has nothing to do with whether we negotiate their contract,” Schaust said.

What’s next?

With both parties stating they hope to work toward a deal in the near future, it doesn’t appear a deal will happen for at least two weeks, as one of the school board’s negotiators, Peter Brasket, is out of town on business.

Schaust also said there are a number of other meetings coming up that will make it difficult to meet in the near future, but nonetheless, she is optimistic an agreement will be reached soon.