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West Shore teacher contract negotiations continue

Alyssa Jackson
505-5438/@AlyssaJacksonYD
  • West Shore School District has been negotiating a contract for more than two years with the union.
  • The district sent out a news release stating that an agreement would not be reached before start of school.

West Shore School District's teachers will not have a new contract between the district and the teachers union by the start of the school year, the district announced. The district and the West Shore Education Association have been negotiating the contract since January 2014.

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The WSEA represents teachers, counselors and other specific employees at West Shore School District. According to documents found on the district's website, the last agreement between the district and WSEA ended on Aug. 31, 2014, but the two parties have been discussing a new contract since January 2014. Since no agreement has been reached, the district currently operates under the terms of the old contract.

The WSEA requested fact finding be done in February of 2016, and a report followed in March. Fact finding is one avenue that the union or the school district can request when there has not been an agreement reached during negotiations. A neutral third party listened to both the district and the WSEA's claims before making a series of recommendations.

The district rejected the fact finding recommendations in April, according to a news release from the district, because the recommendations were "fiscally irresponsible from both a short-term and long-term perspective."  The report suggested that the board provide some modest salary increases for senior employees, which is what WSEA is hoping for, but sided with the school district in how the health care should be handled.

Report: The fact finder report recommended that teacher's salaries be increased, but the district maintains that most of its teachers have the highest salary in the region and raising that would only increase the margin with other schools.

Kevin Downs, president of the WSEA, said that the district hopes to eventually lower starting salaries for the district in the coming years, which is a point of contention between the WSEA and the district.

The district also stated that the fact finder report fails to protect taxpayers from the Cadillac Tax under the Affordable Health Care Act and does not require working spouses of district employees to use their own health insurance instead of the insurance provided by the district. The Cadillac Tax would begin in 2020 and would tax employers that provide a health plan that provides excessive benefits, a determination made by the federal government. According to the release, the district is "absolutely opposed to any agreement that does not guarantee taxpayer funds will never be used to pay this tax."

Downs explained that the Cadillac Tax would begin well after the contract being negotiated would end.

Meetings: According to the district, the WSEA requested that the school board make its "best and final offer" by July 8. The board did so and requested a response from the WSEA by Aug. 1, but the board stated that as of Aug. 11 it had not received a response from the WSEA. The two parties are set to meet on Monday, meaning that an agreement will not be reached before schools starts on Aug. 24, according to the release.

Downs told a different story, saying that the district has been dragging their feet, slow to respond to possible meeting dates and coming to meetings unprepared. He said that the WSEA had proposed several meeting dates before the summer started, but the district never confirmed any of them, so they eventually needed to be changed.

"We've been ready to negotiate at every step of the way," Downs said.

Negotiations will continue at Monday's meeting between the school board and the WSEA. According to the release, the school board is hoping to reach an agreement soon.

"The board is making every reasonable effort to resolve these negotiations as soon as possible, so that all stakeholders can be provided with the comfort and stability of a contract and all personnel can fully focus on educating students," the release stated.

Downs could not say specifically what would happen at Monday's meeting but shared the district's sentiment; a contract needs to be reached soon.

Matthew Gonce, 3, picks dandelions outside Crossroads Middle School while his mother, Alison Gonce, joins fellow West Shore Education Association teachers in protest in April. Photo by John Joyce

"We're anxious to get this settled," he said. "It's very stressful for the teachers. It takes away their focus from school and, to be quite honest, when the district is dragging their feet so long on getting information to us and not coming to meetings prepared, it makes the teachers feel undervalued."