BY APRIL EVANS
Both sides of the negotiating table in Catlin schools went into a second meeting Thursday night with a federal mediator hopeful, but an agreement has not yet been reached.
Both Superintendent Gary Lewis and Catlin Faculty Organization president Lezlie Holman said some progress toward an agreement was made Thursday. The federally mediated meeting between the district and CFO negotiating teams lasted around four hours.
Another negotiating session is expected to be set soon, but one has not yet been scheduled.
Holman said under instruction of the mediator, further comment isn’t allowed at this time. Lewis also had no other comment.
Teachers in the Catlin district have been working without a contract since their last one-year contract expired June 30. Negotiating teams have now met six times, twice with a federal mediator to try to reach an agreement between teachers and the board of education.
On the negotiating table are a myriad of language items including a new teacher evaluation system, building and materials issues, computer access and the development of a committee to help fund ideas in the district both financially and intellectually to help broaden access for students.
Also is the issue of salaries for teachers, who are calling for an overhaul of their salary schedule. They say it currently inhibits veteran and more educated teachers from staying in the district, which leads to a higher than normal turnover rate and lower paid teachers overall.
Lewis has said the board hopes for a multi-year contract with teachers. They had recently offered teachers a 1.75 percent salary increase for each year of a three-year contract during the first mediated meeting.
Like other area districts, Catlin is feeling financial strain. The education fund, which is 80 percent of district spending, pays for teacher salaries and almost anything to do with educating the student, took a $300,000 hit last fiscal year, eating away at reserves. Lewis has projected more than $500,000 will be lost in that fund alone during the current budget that runs through the end of June, leaving just $360,000 left as reserves in that fund.
Teachers passed an intent-to-strike vote at the end of October, giving them the option to strike once other criteria are met. Holman said Thursday that the absolute earliest that could happen is Dec. 3, since they are now in the process of meeting with a federal mediator.
However, she said their desire is not to strike, but to settle a fair contract.