BY APRIL EVANS
The Catlin Faculty Organization and the Catlin school district sat down for a second time with a federal mediator Thursday night to try to reach an agreement with teachers.
It marked the sixth time the two sides have sat down together to discuss the teachers’ contract, which expired June 30. Teachers passed an intent-to-strike vote at the end of October.
The CFO held an informational open house for the public in the Catlin High School cafeteria prior to and during the start of the negotiations, which were being conducted in another part of the building.
Lezlie Holman, CFO president, made a statement to the 30 people gathered before she entered the negotiations session.
Holman said that language items that have a significant impact on teachers and the learning environment continued to be unresolved. Also, the issue of salary — not just more money, but also a redevelopment of their schedule — has yet to be agreed upon.
She said while they recognize the school board’s plight — reduced state aid and concerns with the assessed valuation that affects taxes — those are the same problems with which other districts are dealing.
“We are tired of the school budget being balanced on our backs,” Holman said.
Holman also told community members that teachers, too, are concerned about possible increased property taxes and that is not something they want to see happen.
“But you should probably be asking yourselves how your taxes are being spent,” Holman said.
Jim and Alice McDowell, Catlin residents for more than 50 years, attended the open house. They were concerned about what is going on with teacher negotiations. While they had a general feeling about what is happening, Jim McDowell said the informational posters on the cafeteria walls helped to tell the story better.
“The teachers are not getting paid what they ought to be getting paid,” said Alice McDowell.
Jim McDowell said he thinks it’s hard for the district to retain veteran teachers under the current salary schedule.
“It’s just unfortunate that these are the economic times we’re in,” Jim McDowell said, noting hardships for schools that are connected with state budget issues. “It’s a shame the school has let this go on so long, this differential in pay.”
Superintendent Gary Lewis said he felt hopeful prior to the mediation session with teachers. He said the last mediation meeting lasted three hours.
Lewis said the school board discussed negotiations together as a whole board at their last regular board meeting, Nov. 8. Their negotiating team also met separately just prior to the mediation meeting.
Holman said her team was willing to stay as long as it took Thursday.
While teachers passed an intent-to-strike vote earlier, their meetings with the federal mediator superseded the 10-day ticking clock before a strike vote could be taken.
A new clock was set when they began meeting with the federal mediator on Oct. 22. The absolute earliest teachers could go out on strike is Dec. 3, but the intention Thursday was for a new agreement.
“Going out on strike is not what we want to do,” Holman said. “What we want to do is to settle a fair contract.”