School District negotiating employment contracts

The compensation package for San Juan School District personnel was put on hold during the April 17 meeting of the school board. The offer presented by the district had not yet been agreed to by the San Juan Education Association at the time of the meeting, therefore the board scheduled a special meeting on May 1 to give more time to the association.
At the time of the meeting, it was reported that just 30 percent of the membership had responded to the offer, of which 20 percent had voted no to the offer presented by the District. District Business Administrator Clayton Holt said that once the teachers understood the options, he thought they would vote for the change.
Major changes in the offer proposed by the District was to freeze all step increases and give an across-the-board salary increase of 1.5 percent. Currently employees move up the “steps” based on years of service. Many of the employees have reached the maximum step increase allowed based on their years of service with the district and haven’t had a pay increase in several years.
Another major change would involve the health care package changing from the silver option to the bronze option. Employees would have the choice of upgrading to the silver or gold package at their own cost.
Nathan Chamberlain, President of the San Juan Education Association, said that the association had since discussed the offer at their annual meeting. Chamberlain said the major concern of the group is the freezing of steps. Teachers are concerned that if steps are frozen they would never get them back.  Some members felt that freezing steps and offering an across-the-board 1.5 percent increase would benefit the administrative end far more than the teachers as they have a higher base pay amount.
The education association seems to favor a more equitable distribution of the raise, such as determining the total amount of money the increase would generate and dividing that equally among employees, giving a flat dollar amount to licensed staff and a percentage to classified staff.
According to information provided by the district, the majority of teachers will benefit by steps. In total, 63 percent of licensed employees benefit by steps, while only 37 percent of administrators benefit by step increases.
There is concern from the education association that the reason the percentage was offered was to benefit administrators, as the majority would not receive an increase if they go with steps. The teachers expect that once they sign a contract and get a salary schedule that it will stay that way. They feel that new teachers will receive a 1.5 percent cut if they accept the increase because a step is typically three percent.  
District business administrator Clayton Holt said there are a number of issues to consider. He pointed out that there are limited resources to provide compensation and the district is trying to provide the best they can.  “The school board is committed to living within a budget so they are not going to spend money that they don’t have,” said Holt.  
Holt said that the real question is who will benefit and who won’t. He said that providing steps on the salary schedule will take all the financing that is available for salary, meaning those employees that do not get a step increase will get nothing.
Holt expressed concern that those employees will actually get less than nothing as they will have their health insurance reduced at the same time. The biggest concern for the district is funding which is not there, according to Holt. He reported that there is projected increase in retirement rates of two percent a year for the next two years, making it a major effort for the district to be able to fund the retirement increase. The retirement portion of the employee compensation package is more than 20 percent of the total compensation package.
Holt stated that the direction they are heading is the association suggestion to take the total amount and divide it between licensed employees, with classified or hourly employees receiving the 1.5 percent increase.
Holt also addressed the concern of the association that the freeze on steps would continue past this year. He said that the district is planning only a one-year freeze at this point.  “The district has worked hard to maintain the steps for many years, even with significant budget decreases,” stated Holt.
He pointed out that three years ago, there was a decrease in salary and for the next two years there was no increase. For the past three years they have put every dollar available into paying steps, so some employees have gone three years with no increase at all.  
Holt said that they are trying to provide something for every employee this year, with the future goal to continue to provide the steps for employees so new employees can move on the salary schedule.
While expressing concern about the change in health care, the association felt that due to federal health care changes, that type of change is inevitable. They didn’t feel there is anything they could do about it so it would not be worth their time to fight over the change.
Following a vote, the majority of the members did not want to accept the offer made by the district. The negotiating team is trying to come up with a counter offer to present to the district by Wednesday. Holt felt confident that the association and the district would be able to come to an agreement.
In other business, the issue with Red Mesa School District continues to be a concern for the board.  Superintendant Doug Wright reported that buses from Red Mesa continue to run into Utah from Arizona as a result of a Navajo Nation Court Order demanding bus service continue.
Superintendant Doug Wright attended a meeting of the Red Mesa School Board and tried to correct some misconceptions regarding San Juan School District and the quality of education at Whitehorse High School. Clayton Holt presented information regarding Impact Aid funding that is being received by Red Mesa School District for students that live in Utah. According to a clarification from the Department of Education they cannot claim a student across state lines and receive funding for those students. Wright said that he does not think the issue is over and there may be new students in San Juan County schools next fall.  
Board Member Merri Shumway questioned the need for area schools to each send busses to events such as Sterling Scholar and History Fair with only a handful of students on each bus. Shumway said that San Juan High and Monticello High could share a bus to State History Fair and she didn’t see any inconvenience for either school.
Clayton Holt pointed out that if schools can make it work within their transportation allocation they often will continue to take their own bus. If the district wants them to share busses, then they will have to mandate it to make it happen.
Shumway said that they should make a mandate that schools not travel carelessly. “With economic times the way they are it’s more and more important to be prudent,” said Shumway. Wright suggested that the bus garage could possibly look over requests and when multiple schools are going the same place they could suggest sharing.
Board Member Bill Boyle suggested concerns that may be brought up by bus drivers, fearing drivers in Monticello may not have the opportunity to drive combined buses. In addition, last minute adjustments due to weather or bus troubles would have larger ripple effects.
The board will put the issue on a future agenda for discussion

San Juan Record

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