West Shore teachers demonstrate for fair contract
"Support your teachers; we support your kids!"
A group of several dozen teachers, educators and community members shouted those words outside Cedar Cliff High School on Thursday evening. The demonstration took place before West Shore School District's board meeting, which was moved to an earlier time and to the high school auditorium to present an update on its teacher contract negotiations.
The negotiations between the school district and the West Shore Education Association, the teachers union, have been going on for nearly three years. Sticking points include health care, the so-called "Cadillac Tax" — which would be issued in 2020 if the federal government believes the health care benefits are excessive — and teacher salaries.
The school board announced beforehand with a news release that the meeting would be moved to the auditorium and moved up to 6 p.m. so the board could present its “best and final offer” for a teacher contract. The offer had been given to the union on July 8 and will be voted on by the association next week.
Educators such as Becky Hoch, an English teacher in the district, aren't so sure the district's offer is really the best.
"I think they can do better," she said. "There's nothing 'best' about it, but it might have been their final offer."
Hoch and French teacher Kim King said before the meeting that they hoped both sides would be presented and that the district would understand the teachers and the West Shore Education Association are becoming impatient.
"We've been very patient, and now we're frustrated," King said. She later said the negotiations made her feel disrespected and demeaned by the school district.
Peg Wrigley, bargaining chair for the union and a learning support teacher for the school district, said she hasn't felt the district negotiated fairly during the three-year process.
"The teachers have not felt they've been respected," she said. "As bargaining chair, I do not feel the district has negotiated fairly. There's no reason to be where we are today."
The meeting: The school board had little on its agenda beyond the presentation of the district's "best and final offer," which can be found on its website, along with other documents related to the negotiation.
A former Red Land High School teacher, Marti Bert, spoke during the public comments section and asked why the board called the meeting when the union had its own meeting next week and also asked why every detail of administrators' contracts wasn't made public. Board member Thomas Falvo said the board was there to present information, not to negotiate or debate with the public.
The presentation, given partially by Brett Sanders, director of management and information systems, and Superintendent Todd Stoltz, showed salary increases for all staff but differed from the union's counter-proposal in how those raises would be distributed.
The district maintained it would not support any option in which the "Cadillac Tax" could fall back on the taxpayers. The tax would begin in 2020 and would tax employers that provide a health plan that has excessive benefits, with the federal government determining what constitutes "excessive."
The district also is opposed to teachers' spouses using the district's health care if they have a comparable health care plan with their own employer. The district did state it would allow spouses to continue to use the health care plan until 2018 so long as a $100 monthly surcharge is paid through 2017.
Finally, board president Ronald Candioto ended the presentation by thanking the demonstrators for attending and urging the union to strongly consider their proposal next week. The union will meet and be presented the proposal again Wednesday, and the proposal will be voted on Friday.
"There’s going to be feelings that there’s a lack of respect, that we ignore what happens. That’s a natural part of negotiations," Candioto said. "We recognize what you do for our students, and we do want to bless you with a good contract."
Final thoughts: Union president Kevin Downs said he felt the meeting was a waste of time by the district and pointed out after it had ended that the offer the district was using to compare to its own had actually expired.
"I was surprised when they said they didn't want to bargain in public, but that's what they did," Downs said. "I wish I had those two hours back; it was a waste of time."
Some teachers echoed his sentiments in the halls of the high school after the meeting.
"I'm not surprised," Hoch said about the presentation. "I would have liked to be pleasantly surprised, but I wasn't."