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Union officials blast board's contract proposal

| Saturday, April 24, 2004

Teachers union officials blasted the South Butler County School Board on Friday for a "grossly unfair" and "unreasonable" contract proposal. The district answered back a la President Bush with qualms over the union's "fuzzy math."

"When you take the board's proposals and add them up, we're essentially looking at a substantial loss in wages and benefits that our membership cannot and will not accept," said Dawn Heilman, chief negotiator for the union that represents 182 district teachers. Teachers have been working under the terms of the last contract -- a six-year deal -- since it expired in July 2003.

The district has proposed a five-year contract. But after 20 bargaining sessions, both the district and its teachers remain far apart in negotiations on both salary and health insurance issues, district officials said last week.

The school board wants teachers to start contributing to the skyrocketing cost of health insurance, and that's what the sticking point appears to be.

The board is willing to cover up to a 5 percent increase in health insurance premiums per year. Any increase above 5 percent must be paid by teachers through co-pays, according to the school board's proposal.

For next school year, these annual co-pays will range from $219 for an individual to $596 for a family for the point-of-service plan, district officials said.

The union is concerned about this offer because it means teachers will be paying for unpredictable increases, Heilman said.

"A first-year teacher would end up making 17 cents less per hour next year than they make this year after the cost of health payments and increased length of day and length of school year are considered," Heilman said. "For the master teacher, this would result in a decrease of 75 cents per hour next year over this year. That's unacceptable."

School district solicitor Thomas King said this argument is based on what President Bush called "fuzzy math."

"No one will make less in wages than they did under the last contract," King said. "Their concerns are the same concerns we have in terms of what we face in healthcare: It's an unknown. Because we can't predict, we want participation from the staff. Most people in the community are participating in some way in helping to pay for their healthcare."

The union wants the district to continue paying 100 percent of teachers' medical and dental costs, district officials said. Board members say they can no longer afford that.

To speed a settlement, school board members are threatening not to pay teachers retroactive raises for the 2003-2004 school year if a settlement isn't reached by June 30.

A date hasn't been set for the next negotiation meeting, King said.

The union's goal is not to strike, Heilman said.

"It is our hope that the board decides to work with us toward a fair compromise, but we're beginning to lose hope that they have any interest in that," Heilman said. Additional Information:

Details

South Butler County negotiations

  • Number of teachers: 182.

  • Number of students: 2,950.

  • Sticking points: Average annual raises and health benefits. Union's demand: 5.04 percent, according to the district. District's offer: 3.49 percent.

    Starting teachers currently earn $28,350. Step 10 with a master's degree pays about $45,000. Step 20 -- top of the pay scale -- pays $63,353 with a master's degree.

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