By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Havre Public Schools is offering its teachers a 4 percent pay raise and a $60 increase in its contribution to their health insurance premiums next year. The district also is calling for a freeze in pay given for supervising after-school activities and the possibility of a shorter lunch period.
The 4 percent raise and 19 percent increase to the district health insurance premium contribution form the backbone of the district's one-year contract proposal to 126 full-time teachers. Teachers would also receive increases for years of teaching experience and levels of education, as they do now.
The package, proposed to the teachers on Thursday, is worth $375,000, said Andy Sever, director of personnel services for the Montana School Boards Association and leader of the district's bargaining team.
"I think this is bigger than anything you guys have been offered in a significant period of time," Sever told representatives of the teachers union - the Havre Education Association - Thursday night. He said the district was "putting all our eggs in two baskets if you will: salary and insurance."
At their first meeting on March 4, the union requested a three-year contract with a 6 percent raise next year, a 5 percent raise for 2005-2006, and a 4 percent raise for 2006-2007. It also requested a 26 percent increase in the school district's health insurance contribution - an increase of $80 a month per employee - to offset a 22 percent premium increase.
Under the district's proposal, base pay for an entering teacher would increase from $22,596 to about $23,500 next year.
The district's insurance contribution would increase from about $315 to $375 a month. That means a single teacher would pay $30 per month out of pocket - compared with $18 per month this year - and a family would pay $637 per month out of pocket, compared with $517 per month this year. That does not include the cost of dental and vision coverage.
In exchange for the pay and insurance contribution increases, Sever said, the district wants more flexibility. That includes:
increasing the teachers' official work day 15 minutes to a full eight hours;
reducing the minimum lunch period for teachers to 30 minutes in all grade levels. The minimum is now 50 minutes for grades K through 3.
increasing the maximum amount of credit it can give to teachers for previous teaching experience in other districts when they transfer to Havre - from seven years to 10 years - to help it recruit more effectively;
changing procedure so people with concerns about curriculum content go straight to the administration instead of to the teacher as they now do.
The issue that drew the most reaction from the four-member teachers bargaining committee was the lunch issue.
The lunch period at Sunnyside Intermediate School was change from 50 minutes to 30 minutes when the last contract was negotiated three years ago.
The teachers requested to end the 30-minute lunch in contract proposals they presented on March 4. The district rejected the request.
Sever said the district wants the flexibility to move all schools to a 30-minute lunch.
Committee members said the shorter lunch at Sunnyside makes it harder for students to be productive.
"We've done it for three years, and the position they're giving us is that it's very difficult to get the kids back on task" after the short lunch period, union negotiator Scott Filius said after the meeting. Filius teaches history at Havre High School.
Negotiator Vicki Hilliard, who teaches at Lincoln-McKinley Primary School, said some schools in the state are moving toward a one-hour lunch because research has proven that children need physical activity to learn. She also said a shorter lunch is less healthy for students and teachers.
"By decreasing that lunch hour you're getting worse eating habits. You're getting increased stress," she said.
HPS personnel director Karla Wohlwend said the shorter lunch provides more time in the classroom.
"We're crunched for time and we need to have our children here and our teachers teaching," she said.