GCEA, school board far apart in contract talks

Frustration with Iowa teachers unions’ inability to negotiate a benefits package was apparent when Heath Telleen, chief negotiator for the Greene County Education Association, presented his group’s initial offer in contract negotiations during the school board’s work session March 11.

The teachers are asking for a 4.88 percent increase. Telleen said the new school building is impressive, “but the reality is we’re competing to get quality teachers.”

He said the building is physical capital, but teachers are human capital. He said there are three fine student teachers at the high school currently, but none of them would accept a contract to teach at Greene County next year because of the insurance benefit.

The state legislature stripped unions of the ability to negotiate anything but salary. “We’re not negotiating, we’re informing,” Telleen said.

Greene County teachers currently are offered health insurance with a $2,500 deductible for an individual plan and a $5,000 deductible for a family plan. He compared that plan to what teachers at Saydel have – a $1,000 deductible for an individual with no employee contribution.

Telleen said the GCEA has been told the insurance benefit is better than what’s provided in private industry. “We’re not competing with private industry (for employees). We’re competing with other schools,” he said.

He said teachers are struggling with medical bills because of the high deductibles. “We want people to know. It’s real…. It’s information I think people ought to be aware of,” Telleen said.

School board president Steve Fisher asked if teachers would rather have more benefits or an increase in pay. Telleen answered that before the legislature gutted collective bargaining, there were many years teachers settled for a smaller increase in pay in order to keep health benefits.

School superintendent then presented the board’s counter offer: freeze the base pay at $32,160 (the current year base).

The district will see only $4,000 in “new” money with the state’s 2.3 percent increase in state supplemental aid. Current teachers moving up steps and across in lanes of the salary matrix will increase salary expense $105,000 for 2020-21,

Christensen explained. That’s a 1.32 percent total cost to the district in salaries. The renewal for the teachers’ current insurance benefit includes a 9 percent increase in cost to the district.

Also at the work session, a discussion of decreasing the number of credits needed to be eligible for extra curricular activities continued.

High school principal Brian Phillips said students and parents ought to be able to decide if a student takes four, five or six classes. He said activities director Todd Gordon and the school counselors agree four classes should be enough for a senior on track to graduate. “We need to get out of that dictatorship role,” Phillips said.

School board member Catherine Wilson said she’s afraid that “if we keep stepping back, where do we stop?” She suggested rather than decreasing the number of credits needed for graduating (and thus decreasing the number of classes students must take), she’d like to see students receive credit for work experience.

When the discussion was held previously, Christensen initiated a committee to develop a vision of what a skills or traits a Greene County graduate should have.

The committee has gotten as far as determining seven desired skills/traits: critical thinking, wellness, collaboration, citizenship, perseverance, innovation and communication.

The committee is now working on grade level expectations for those skills/traits. That will tie into further discussion of changing the number of credits required for graduation and the number of classes required for participation. Christensen and Phillips want a decision before students schedule their classes for 2020-21.

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