The Ottumwa Courier

Education

January 13, 2014

School district optimistic

OTTUMWA — Negotiations have to start somewhere. The suggestion put forth by teachers in the Ottumwa school district is for a total package increase of 9 percent.

The local teachers' union has submitted its initial contract proposal for the school year that will start in the fall of 2014. There are several requests to change rules for teachers or for the district. Those don't always cost the district more money, though they can. It's the total package increase that many people think of when they talk about contract negotiations.

Yet that doesn't mean teachers are asking for a pay hike of nearly 10 percent; "total package" includes things workers never really see, like insurance premiums and other benefits, social security tax and Iowa employee retirement funds. Part of the increase could also include pay raises for teachers.

Though much of the negotiation process is done in privacy, the initial proposal meeting is, by law, open to the public, explained Ottumwa school superintendent Davis Eidahl.

"I believe everyone involved in the process understands the initial proposal is not what the final contract agreement will be," Eidahl said. "It's simply a starting point to begin the conversation."

So this is just the first step.

The district budget has a "general fund" balance, which is used for teacher pay and, with some restrictions, other expenses. That fund brings in about $44 million and spends about $44 million. The current proposal would take an extra $1.8 million. So one question for negotiators, said Eidahl, is what kind of "new money" the district can expect. Currently, around $22 million is spent on salary and other expenses earned by teachers in Ottumwa.

"Initial proposals are a good way to communicate priorities to begin the negotiation process," said Eidahl after he received and read the submission from the union.

Some of those priorities become clear upon viewing the list of "language" changes teachers seek in their master contract.

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