By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
An 11th-hour contract proposal by Havre Public Schools was rejected by the local teachers union late Thursday following four hours of negotiations. Union representatives said the proposal was rejected because the district refused to make two key concessions.
The district refused to reduce the amount of discretionary time required in the current contract. Discretionary time - now set at 45 hours a semester - is time that school administrators can ask teachers to work in addition to their regular hours for duties like mandatory staff meetings. On the second issue, the two parties were unable to agree on a district proposal to reduce the minimum lunch period from 50 minutes to 30 minutes at two elementary schools that still have the longer lunches. The union rejected an amended offer by the the district that would have allowed those teachers to keep 50-minute lunches in exchange for working an additional 20 minutes either before or after school each day.
Early in the negotiations Thursday, the two parties agreed to most of the district's proposed contract - a one-year deal that includes a 4 percent raise and a $60 increase in the district's contribution to teachers' health insurance premiums.
The package, proposed to the teachers earlier this month, would cost the district $375,000. Under the 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.
At the beginning of Thursday's meeting, union negotiator Scott Filius said the teachers favor the overall package, but had concerns about several issues.
One of the provisions the teachers questioned was the district's request to extend the workday for all teachers in the district by 15 minutes, Filius said.
"The overall concept is that we're putting a lot of dollars on the table and we're trying to get as much bang for our buck as we can," said Andy Sever, the leader of the district's bargaining team. "It's a way of putting into the contract our expectation as an employer."
Sever assured the union representatives that the extra time would not be used to implement an additional class period at any of the schools.
Filius brought up the issue of discretionary time. He said that while it is rare for any teachers to actually work 45 discretionary hours during a semester, teachers at one school in the Havre system have been working close to that amount, and want the district to reduce the number of those hours in the new contract.
Sever first told the union that the district was not flexible on that issue, but later in the evening offered to reduce the number of discretionary hours to 40 a semester.
The district withdrew that offer when it agreed to increase teachers' compensation for extracurricular activities by 4 percent - a concession worth about $8,000.
The other issue that became a stumbling block was the district's request to reduce the minimum lunch period to 30 minutes for teachers at all elementary schools. Unlike Sunnyside Intermediate School, Lincoln-McKinley Primary School and Highland Park Early Primary School have 50-minute lunch periods.
The union refused to budge on the issue, citing research that a half-hour lunch period is not a sufficient break for young students.
"It's not an educationally sound policy," said union negotiator Vicki Hilliard. "We're here for the good of the kids. Why would we want to take out language (in the contract) that is beneficial to the students?"
When it appeared that neither party would back off its position, Sever proposed an alternative - keeping the lunch period at 50 minutes, but requiring teachers at those schools that have the longer lunch to make up the extra 20 minutes before or after school.
Filius said the proposal would likely be approved if the district would reinstate the offer to reduce discretionary time to 40 hours, and also change the way the district calculates longevity time for teachers with seven to nine years of experience.
After a brief discussion, the district's negotiating team rejected the requests and demanded the union representatives vote on the proposal, excluding the items on discretionary time and longevity pay.
When the union negotiators returned to the room, Filius told the district that the proposal had been rejected, and the nine-person vote "was not that close."
After the meeting, Filius said the union team probably would have approved the contract proposal if the district had reinstated its offer to reduce discretionary time. That refusal, coupled with the requirement to make teachers at the two elementary schools make up for the longer lunch, resulted in the negative vote, he said.
Another negotiating session is scheduled for May 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the Robins Administration Building.