The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

January 13, 2012

Teacher salary talks begin in earnest

Teachers, administrators keep eyes on Legislature

OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa school district has begun negotiations to determine teacher salaries for next year.

“We met with teacher leaders (Thursday) and walked them through our proposal, and answered questions they had,” said Davis Eidahl, superintendent of the school district.

The two initial meetings were open to the public. First, the teachers present their proposal. Then, as on Thursday, the district presents its proposal. Then negotiations are conducted privately as the two sides attempt to reach a consensus that both are willing to accept.

“We work back and forth from each of our proposals,” said Eidahl. “At times we see similar items we want addressed. Toward the end of negotiations, it comes down to priorities and compromises.”

It also comes down, in a way, to what legislators decide in Des Moines.

Brett Fischels, a teacher who leads negotiations on behalf of the Ottumwa Education Association, said he keeps on eye on the Iowa House.

“As a member of the association, I’m watching what they do very closely,” Fischels said. “Education is my livelihood, and what they decide can definitely impact education. Last year there was no allowable growth [for school district revenue].”

So that became something both the district and the teachers had to work around during their negotiations.  

Eidahl said he too watches what is going on in the Legislature.

So what’s on the table? It’s not just money, the union negotiator said. Fischels said the association members want teachers to be the best professionals they can be.

Both sides want some language changes, which can include basics like when employees take time off or how long they take to “prep” for class.

“Our district has been fortunate here in Ottumwa. While the [union] and the district don’t see eye to eye on every issue, we agree on the big things,” said Eidahl.

Fischels agreed that the teacher association and the district have a pretty good relationship.

“I’ll say it’s as good as it’s been for a while. A couple years ago, it may have been a little rocky. But I think both sides have made a concerted effort to be better listeners, to listen to each other.”

“When it comes to student achievement,” said Eidahl, “we’re on the same page. We all want what’s in the best interest of kids and the district. When it comes to money? We’re not quite on the same page there. They gave us their proposal, [which included] a request for a total compensation — that’s salary and benefits — increase of 8.5 percent.”

“We’re trying to accomplish the same thing I hope we try to accomplish every year. We try to get a settlement that’s fair for our members while also being balanced,” Fischels said.

He said he believes Ottumwa teachers have not shown themselves to be greedy when negotiating pay raises.

And Eidahl said the increase requested is not shockingly high. But the district has to look at its overall financial health, he said, and the biggest expense for Ottumwa schools is payroll.

“We offered a 1.7 percent total package increase,” the superintendent said. “That would allow us to increase our contribution to IPERS (retirement program) and fund [salary] steps.”

The steps are the incremental pay increases a teacher receives as they add another year of service. If nothing changed except for the increased experience of the district workforce, it would cost the district 1.4 percent more than last year.

“We’re looking at what the next few years will bring with declining enrollment,” said Eidahl. “We want to make sure the offer we do present is fair but also responsible for our district and community.”

Salary talks traditionally take about two months.

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