Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 22, 2018

Board delivers counter-offer to teachers’ union

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Apr 05, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photos Kristen Septer, right, and the other members of the Fairfield Community Education Association’s negotiating team listen to the school district’s counter-offer on a contract for next school year.

The Fairfield Community Education Association, the district’s teachers’ union, submitted a contract proposal March 21, and Wednesday night heard a counter-offer from the Fairfield Community School District Board of Education.

The Administration/Curriculum/Technology Center was packed with teachers, many wearing red T-shirts that read “America Needs Public Schools.” Wednesday was the final meeting in the negotiations open to the public. Subsequent negotiations will be behind closed doors and attended only by the two sides’ negotiating teams.

Some aspects of bargaining are mandatory, meaning that the contract must include them, such as the base wage of each category of employee depending on their education. Other items are permissive, meaning the contract may include them or not. The association wants to include many “permissive” items that the board does not. Instead, the board wants many of these items moved to the employee handbook. The difference between the two is that it is easier for the board to change the handbook, since it does not have to negotiate a change to the contract with the association.

For instance, the district proposes moving language about sick leave, temporary leaves of absences, sabbatical leaves, spring break and safety provisions to the handbook. Superintendent Laurie Noll said the board is bound by city, county, state and federal laws, and thus many provisions in past contracts merely duplicate state law and can be removed since they are redundant. She said Iowa code already sets rules for sick leave, insurance, collaboration time and teaching continuing contracts.

Another difference between the two sides was the length of contract sought. The association wanted a contract to last five years, whereas the district wants it to last one year.

Kristen Septer teaches science at Fairfield High School, and is the association’s co-president and chief negotiator.

“The association proposed eliminating all illegal topics of bargaining as a result of the change to Iowa Chapter 20 law on collective bargaining,” she began. “And we proposed keeping all permissive items in the master contract. Some permissive items include employee hours, safety provisions, and leaves of absence. The district suggested taking most of them out.”

Septer said moving permissives to the handbook allows the board to make changes at any time and without notification.

“I was a little disappointed they chose to remove that many permissive items,” Septer said.

Noll said the board would approve its handbook annually and that “great effort [will be] taken to have changes occur only during that annual review.”

The board’s offer included increasing teacher pay 1.56 percent overall.

If the two sides cannot come to an agreement, a mediator from the Public Employee Relation Board will be called in to help the two sides settle their differences. Septer said the association will probably deliver its offer to the board’s counter-offer later this month, but didn’t venture a guess as to when a final contract will be written.

Comments (1)
Posted by: David Sands | Apr 05, 2018 15:48

So what, really, is the point of an adversarial relationship between the School Board and our teachers? Don't we want our teachers to feel secure and respected through a fair contract with good wages and benefits? After all, they educate our kids and contribute to the high quality of life in Jefferson County.

Putting some of the benefits in a handbook, which can be changed at the whim of the Board, disrespects our teachers, who deserve to have their wages and benefits in their master contract.

This problem was created by changes the Republican-controlled Legislature made to Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code. Those changes constituted a direct assault on the bargaining power of the teachers' union. We need to elect representatives — surely, they will have to be Democrats — who will restore the bargaining rights of the public employees' unions, support public education and defend the quality of our rural communities.

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