Teachers tense after contract ratified
Despite the approval of a new teacher contract, a sense of unease and unresolved issues from both sides of the negotiations permeated the Nov. 21 school board meeting, centering around the dwindling school-district budget.
A new teacher contract was ratified by both parties, approved by teachers on Nov. 20, by a vote of 52-48, and by school board members during the school board meeting on Nov. 21 by a vote of 3-2.
Bob Burns, Co-President of the Park City Education Foundation, negotiating for the teachers, said that the close votes "speaks to the success of the negotiation teams." "Yours was a very close vote, ours was a very close vote, so obviously we hit the spot we needed to hit."
The basics of the new contract for the 2006-07 school year call for a cost-of-living adjustment of one percent, to be added to the existing salary schedule. In addition, a one-percent stipend is to be included separately as a one-time bonus, not to be built upon or compounded in future contracts.
Step-and-Lane, automatic increases that are dependent on a teacher’s qualifications and number of years teaching, are to be funded for this year.
According to the contract, the school district will continue to provide health, dental, vision and life insurance coverage to eligible licensed employees.
Some members of the board expressed worries that the budget could not currently support the new teachers’ contract. Others said the new contract didn’t provide enough.
Prior to the vote by the board, school board member Kathryn Adair expressed concern that to approve the contract would so strain the already-strained district budget that some teachers would have to be laid-off.
"I’ve been on record many times over the past year as being absolutely opposed to any layoffs," she said. "I’ve had personal experience with layoffs and they’re devastating to families financially, emotionally and mentally."
She spoke of the board’s commitment to teachers. "I’ve seen quite a few e-mails that the board doesn’t value teachers and staff. That really breaks my heart," she said. For a number of years the district had positive windfalls, she said, and those were shared with teachers because they are so highly valued.
Adair recommended a freeze of new expenses until the newly-formed budget committee has a chance to look at budget numbers and possibly find other ways to get the budget under control.
Board Member Vern Christensen said, "We’ve hit the wall. We can’t continue this. We can’t continue the same level of service. We can’t have the same ratio of pupils to teachers. Things have changed pretty dramatically and will impact everybody, including students."
After the split board vote in favor of ratifying the contract, the audience had a chance to speak.
Park City High School teacher Ed Mulick said "There is a lot of fringe in schools, its not going into teachers’ salaries, its going into fluff," he said. Mulick spoke of the high school remodel. "I am angry. I look out and see all the money being spent on beautiful buildings and all these wonderful programs and it’s spend, spend, spend, spend, spend," he said. "But when it comes time for negotiations, I hear we’re in dire straits. What I’d like you guys to do after the committees is to make it very simple and say, for every tax dollar we get, here’s what’s being spent on buildings, on maintaining buildings, on programs and on teachers."
Adair agreed about the need for communication and education. She made the point that the capital funds used in construction of buildings are completely separate from the funds that pay staff salaries, and that the district is legally bound to keep the funds separate.
Adair said of the high school that a year-long analysis was done looking at spending the money on the current school versus spending $60 million in another facility elsewhere to get 25 years out of a high school. "I think people need to know we’re not being cavalier about spending dollars," she said.
Park City High School teacher Charlie Matthews spoke of his negotiating a contract for teachers in New York, and with everyone making cuts, how the district was able to afford a new contract for teachers. "We have to sit down and say, look, we can work together. That means putting a pencil to paper right now this year’s budget, everyone makes a list of things that can be cut," he said.
Burns spoke of how every year, negotiations teams face "new roadblocks and difficulties." I greatly admire all members of the negotiation teams, districts and associations for their time and efforts patience and persistence," he said.
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Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt died Friday from injuries sustained in an off-duty accident earlier in the week, the agency announced.