BY APRIL EVANS
Teachers and school board members in the Catlin School District will soon meet with a federal mediator to try to close the gap that is preventing a new contract agreement with teachers.
The two sides last met Sept. 20, a meeting that proved underwhelming for both groups.
“It wasn’t very productive,” Catlin Superintendent Gary Lewis said.
Similarly, Lezlie Holman, President of the Catlin Faculty Organization, said they ended that evening in the exact same position from where they started.
“No movement was made at all,” Holman said.
It was jointly agreed that night they would file for a federal mediator to try to help the stalemate. Teachers have been working without a contract since July 1. The groups have now met four times since July.
Holman said the teachers’ bargaining unit went into this last meeting fairly optimistic, but were again disheartened by the failure of counter proposals from the school board.
Teachers have offered two separate salary proposals, but Holman said the district negotiating team didn’t offer counters because “they were too high to give them any incentive to do so.”
Lewis did not want to comment on specific items being contested between the two sides, instead keeping the details between them at the meeting table, negotiating there.
Catlin teachers contend the current salary schedule is anti-productive to growing a seasoned educator base in the district. While starting salaries are nearly identical to districts similar in size and scope, as Catlin teachers gain experience and more education, there is a salary gap. That gap, says Holman, is at least partially to blame for the 35 percent turnover rate for newer teachers the last two years at Catlin High School.
For salary comparison purposes, Catlin teachers are looking to Bismarck schools because the two have the closest per pupil educational expense in the county.
To demonstrate the salary gap, one comparison made is between a Catlin and Bismarck teacher who each have 20 years experience and a master’s degree. The Catlin teacher makes $44,552, while the Bismarck teacher makes $58,368.
The CFO has suggested the district take 10 percent of its education fund reserves balance to fund a salary schedule overhaul.
Lewis said the education fund took more than a $300,000 hit last fiscal year, reducing the fund balance to around $900,000. Deficit spending to the tune of $500,000 is budgeted for the 2012-2013 school year.
“We just have a lack of funds coming in,” Lewis said, who noted that spending on the whole has been in line, with less spending occurring last year.
He said there is less money coming in because of a stagnant equalized assessed valuation, no increase in enrollment and reduced revenue from state aid.
Teachers plan an informational picket during tonight’s regularly scheduled school board meeting at 7 p.m. at the district office. Holman said some of the 44 CFO members will be handing out informational fliers to the people who are there, which will disclose their position on issues and reasoning behind their unhappiness with the negotiation process thus far.
“Our goal is to educate the public and let people in Catlin know exactly what is going on in negotiations,” Holman said.
Both sides remain hopeful for a successful conclusion and are looking forward to the October 22 meeting with the federal mediator.
“We just want to keep the process moving and get to a resolution,” Lewis said.
Holman said they would like to feel optimistic and are doing more than going through the motions.
“We are very hopeful,” Holman said. “We want a contract. We are hoping to get one.”