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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Salary, insurance sticking points on teacher contract

By Jamie Ausk Crisafulli

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Nearly 16 months into negotiating a new two-year contract for Glendive teachers, two major sticking points remain: salary and insurance.

Negotiations between the Glendive Education Association and the Glendive Unified School Board started in January of 2016 for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school year contracts.

The two groups will meet again Tuesday at 4 p.m. using a mediator, as they have during all negotiation sessions since last summer. 

“We felt like in June for the good of the district, for the preservation of relationships, we had to have a mediator,” GUSB chairwoman Jeanne Seifert said Thursday.

Since then, the two have only met twice, with two other sessions cancelled by the GEA.

Maggie Copeland, MEA-MFT field consultant who represents the GEA, said the the union felt that without a proposal in place concerning salary there wasn’t a reason to meet.

“I finally said to the mediator, ‘look, no offense here, but why are we meeting? We’ve got everything off the table but salary and insurance’ ... ‘we have yet to get a salary proposal,’” she said.

The negotiations sessions have resulted in some progress on the contract, as 16 issues have been agreed upon, according to GUSB Chairwoman Jeanne Seifert.

But the two big issues remain.

According to a 2015-16 survey of Montana Class A Schools, the Glendive School District’s average insurance contribution per teacher is more than any of the 11 schools surveyed, an average of $1176 per employee per month. Columbia Falls came in second at $888, with the lowest being Belgrade at $327.

On the other hand, Glendive teachers have the lowest starting salary of any of the 11 school districts at $30,296.  Polson Schools had the highest starting salary in the survey at $38,572. 

Glendive Schools had the second lowest base salary, which is the number used to determine salaries above the starting salary based on years of experience and level of education. The base salary is also used to determine stipends for coaches and advisors.

Both sides agree that something’s got to give on both salary and insurance,  but where those two issues will balance out is unsettled. 

“I have no objections to, and I don’t think the board does either, giving people an appropriate raise, but we have to control the cost of insurance,” Glendive Superintendent of Schools Ross Farber said.

Copeland said the GUSB’s current insurance proposal would have an impact of thousands of dollars out of pocket for the district’s teachers. According to the GUSB figures, the current insurance proposal from the GUSB would save the district enough money to put $3,000 on the base salary, which is more than the union is requesting, Copeland said. The last proposal by the GUSB was to add nothing to the base during the first year (educators would still receive salary scale increases) and 5 percent to the base the second year of the contract.

The GUSB has an insurance proposal in place and said they are willing add the savings to the base, but no specific proposal has been offered.

“We couldn’t talk about salary, and we still can’t, until we have some ability to work on insurance or look at insurance differently,” Seifert said.

Copeland said the GEA can’t agree to a decrease in insurance contribution from the district without having a plan in place for a boost on the base salary to help teachers cover some of the out-of-pocket insurance expenses.

“We can’t just do insurance and just hope for the best on salary,” she said.

Salary and insurance proposals will have to be discussed at the same time, and a proposal will have to be part of a package deal, if the district wants it to be considered by the union, Copeland noted.

Seifert is confident that the two sides can find agreement on both issues if they are able to meet face to face, something that didn’t happen at the last mediation session. Instead, all communication was done through a mediator  who went back and forth between the groups who were stationed in different rooms. 

Copeland said meeting face to face is something she feels the two sides should try to do on Tuesday as well, as long as both sides can communicate effectively.

“One thing you don’t want to do is have everything go south,” she said. “Everyone has got to calm down a little.”

Copeland noted that in her position she sees long negotiations processes all the time, and the Glendive situation isn’t unusual. 

“Everything settles with time,” she said.

Seifert, whose term on the board will expire in May, hopes that time comes Tuesday.

Reach Jamie Ausk Crisafulli at rreditor@rangerreview.com

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