Teachers, school board unable to reach agreement over contracts
It's two months into the new school year, but the Baldwin teachers are still working under last year's contract.
The Baldwin School Board and district teachers have been working on contract negotiations since spring, but the two sides have yet to reach an agreement on salaries and are at impasse.
Supt. James White said the board has agreed to give the 102 Baldwin teachers a 2.5-percent raise for the 2004-2005 school year, but the teachers believe it's not enough of an increase.
Mike Curran, Baldwin High School mathematics teacher and lead negotiator, agreed the teachers weren't happy with the proposed increase.
"We feel like right now what the board has offered us is not enough for the amount of time and effort spent last year to reach standards of excellence in five buildings, and the amount of time and effort we're putting toward those state standards this year," he said.
Until an agreement is reached, teachers are working under last year's contracts. Once an agreement is reached, the contracts will be retroactive from the first of the school year.
White said the official negotiating term begins Feb. 1. Usually the board and teachers can reach an agreement over the contracts for the following school year by the end of May. But this year, he said, as was the case last year, negotiations are going well into the school year.
Curran said the teachers' negotiating team, made up of seven teachers representing all of the district schools, began meeting in April, and continued meeting weekly throughout the summer working on contract negotiations.
But both White and Curran said the two sides are at an impasse. The two groups are now required to file impasse forms with the Kansas Human Resource Department so an arbitrator can be assigned to the district. The arbitrator will work with the school board and the teachers in an effort to get the two sides to reach settlement on a contract.
"It's kind of like bringing in a third disinterested party to help us reach an agreement," Curran said.
If no agreement can be reached with the arbitrator, White said, a fact finding person will be assigned to go through the budget and the negotiations process. The fact finding person will then present a report and a recommendation.
He said the board can either approve the recommendation or decide to issue unilateral contracts to the teachers. Regardless of the outcome, White said, the school board will make the final decision about the teachers' contracts.
Both White and Curran said though the two sides can't reach an agreement, the problem is actually larger than the school district.
"I really think the state legislature has put us in this position," Curran said, "because the state legislature hasn't increased funding to the district in three years.
"With that non-funding increase, the district has to work with that in the budget," he said. "The teachers are kind of caught."
"When you don't have any new money to work with, it always makes negotiations more difficult," he said.
"And you certainly can't blame the teachers trying to get as much in their salary as they can."
Curran said problems like this only proved the community needed to become involved if it wanted to support the district.
"The public needs to take a look at the legislature," he said. "This year we have an opportunity to make a difference with the upcoming election, and I just want the public to take a long look at who's in the legislature."
Curran said he was hopeful the teachers and school board would soon be able to settle negotiations.
"I'm confident we can come to an agreement," he said. "We may just need a little help in that direction."
White agreed he expected negotiations to end soon.
"I'm optimistic. I'm always optimistic," he said. "I hope somewhere in the very near future, we will be able to reach an agreement."