Still no contract for Red Lion teachers after two years
After more than two years of ongoing negotiations, the Red Lion Area school board and the district's staff have yet to come to terms on a final teachers contract.
The Red Lion Area Education Association during the district's December school board meeting unanimously rejected the board's most recent best offer.
"What's been happening the past two years is that they're asking teachers to accept significant increases to healthcare, but are not helping teachers to shoulder that burden," said Lauri Lebo, of the education association.
"It should be offset by salary increases but what they're offering doesn't come close to closing that financial gap. It wouldn't make sense to accept that, we'd be moving the teachers backwards."
School board member Joel Ogle said similar to school districts and businesses everywhere, the contract proposed by the board includes increases to health care — and teachers haven't been willing to make any compromises there.
"They want wage increases but are offering no concession in health care," he said. "In this day and age, that's impossible; you can't have it both ways."
The contract presented by the board offered both raises and healthcare that is still "extremely good," Ogle said.
Lebo said teachers have in fact been making concessions, and she cited their vote to accept the recommendations of a fact-finder — a third party appointed by the state labor board who can weigh in on contract negotiations when parties cannot agree — as an example.
"There were significant concessions, but they felt it was still a fair contract," Lebo said of the report.
The board in September voted down the report and then increased the demand of health care concessions, she said.
Accepting the most recent proposal would be "increasing their financial burden," Lebo said. "If they were having this discussion back in 2010 at the height of the recession, that's one thing but since then, the school district has built up its fund balance fairly substantially and are still asking that the teachers move back financially.
"They would be in worse shape than they are now and that's just not fair."
Ogle said all involved in negotiations must remember "the district only has so much money."
He also noted that over the past four years, taxes have only been increased by 1.25 percent.
"We’ve trimmed and we’ve cut," Ogle said. "With the teacher’s proposal we put on the table, we can stay within our budget and not raise our taxes."
Ogle also expressed concern that teachers aren't receiving the information they need to decide on the proposed contract so the board posted its most recent offer on its website.
Lebo said teachers are fully aware of what they're being offered.
"I think they've gotten the full picture," she said. "They knew what they were voting on. They knew that they were going to go backwards financially, and that's why they voted it down."
— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at firstname.lastname@example.org