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School district/union impasse goes to mediation

Mar 17th, 2011 | 0

By ASHLEY AMASON

The Walton County School District and teachers’ unions, both instructional and education support professionals (ESP), have reached an impasse in negotiating the 2010-11 collective bargaining agreement. Union presidents Trish Hutchison and Dixie Burge note three non-negotiable items for which the unions are requesting a retroactive application to July 1, 2010: a step increase in salary based on years of experience for instructors and 30 cents per hour wage increase for ESP, paid employee health insurance for Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan 5360, and a guaranteed planning time. Other contract language amendments have been requested, including a 30-minute duty free lunch and 15-minute break during the school day.

When negotiations first began in 2010, the district proposed a 3-percent salary cut while Hutchison proposed a two-step increase for instructional personnel, rolling in the previous year’s unpaid step during which time employees received a bonus check for half of their step, and Burge proposed a 40 cents hourly wage increase for ESP.

The district and unions compromised; the district agreed to no salary cuts, whereas the union reduced their request to one step increase in salary for instructors and 30 cents increase for ESP.

“We want to be paid for our years of experience,” Hutchison stated, “which they haven’t done in two years, for instructional or ESP.”

Vice president of the instructional union Jennifer Nick echoed, “We’re not asking for a raise, we just want our years of experience.”

Step increases are not guaranteed contractually. The district maintains that it cannot afford to give employees a salary increase in light of a possible $3.1 million in cuts according to the governor’s proposed budget, decreased funding in 2011-12 due to declining property values, the end of federal stimulus dollars which amounted to $2 million, as well as the consideration that the Federal Education Jobs Funding (EJF) bill will be part of the district’s revenue allocation next year.

The EJF bill, a two-year grant awarded in 2010 provided the district just over $1.3 million, is the basis upon which Hutchison and Nick are fighting for a step increase and Burge is fighting for 30 cents per hour wage increase. Step increases are approximately $660 per year, except every fifth year when employees receive a “bump.” From year 5-6, a $1,500 bump in salary is received. Year 10-11 is a $2,250 bump, and year 15-16 is a $3,000 bump. According to the step schedule, Hutchison should’ve been bumped from a 9 to a 10 and Nick from a 14 to a 15 in the 2010-11 school year (when bonuses rather than step increases were given), entering the 2011-12 year as steps 11 and 16.

In an interview, Hutchison, Nick and Burge agreed, “We got [almost] $1.4 million of Jobs money that is supposed to go to salaries, only salaries, for bringing back employees who were laid off or giving raises.”

“The bottom line with this year is that Jobs bill money…that was given for salaries. [If the Jobs bill was not on the table] I would not feel as strongly about the [step increase]” Hutchison said. “[On] the pay scale….teachers retire at the top step…[so it] should be fairly cost neutral to give a step for your years of experience because you have people retiring and you have people shifting on that pay scale.”

Regarding the statement that the EJF funds could be used only for re-hiring laid-off employees or giving salary increases, district Chief Financial Officer Jim McCall stated, “That is not correct.”   The bill was a one-time federal provision to prevent further education position layoffs and could be used only for employment costs such as salaries and benefits….

Read the full story in the March 17, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.

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