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School district, teachers very close on contract proposals

School Board President Robin Macomber, business manager Terri O'Brien and Superintendent Mike Fisher look over the district's contract proposal with support staff negotiators Wednesday at Charles City Middle School. (Press photo James Grob.)
School Board President Robin Macomber, business manager Terri O’Brien and Superintendent Mike Fisher look over the district’s contract proposal with support staff negotiators Wednesday at Charles City Middle School. (Press photo James Grob.)
By James Grob,

Members of the Charles City School District’s contract negotiating team went into closed session with employee representatives Wednesday to begin the process of negotiating a new employment contract, but it doesn’t seem that there will be much to negotiate.

The Charles City Education Association presented its initial proposal to the district last week, seeking a 2.3 percent increase in salary and benefits. The district’s initial proposal Wednesday was the same — a 2.3 percent total package increase.

It appears the only thing left to discuss, as far as wages go, is how that increase will be distributed between salary and insurance.

Charles City Superintendent Mike Fisher said that part of his culture and climate focus is looking at alternative ways to bargain.

“We approached a new process called ‘interest-based bargaining,’” Fisher said. “It goes away from the conflict bargaining, where you come from two different positions and kind of argue. The bargaining we’re looking at now, is we find common values and visions and find a way that we can move together collectively and positively impact kids.”

The new approach to bargaining applies to support staff as well. Last week, the Charles City Educational Services Association proposed a 25-cents-per-hour increase for all categories of employees, which comes to about a 2.35 percent increase in total wages. The district proposed the same increase, and even added a shift premium to the pay schedule.

“It’s a very different paradigm, but it all goes back to trust, communication, openness and that’s what we’re moving toward as a family here in Charles City,” Fisher said. “We’re not negotiating ahead of time, but we’re absolutely having a conversation, and we really live by the idea of no surprises.”

The first two meetings of public body collective bargaining — the initial requests by the employees and the initial offer by the employer — are open to the public. After that, negotiations are conducted in private.

Last week, the CCEA also proposed that the contract would be valid through the 2021-22 school year, which is what the district proposed Wednesday.

“We did propose a three-year contract so we don’t have to go through this process every year,” CCEA chief negotiator Tyler Downing said last week. The support staff negotiation team also proposed an increase in the contract to three years.

State collective bargaining rules adopted two years ago limit negotiations to only base wages for many public employees. For teachers, Iowa law now does not allow collective bargaining for such things as insurance coverage, staff evaluation procedures, voluntary and involuntary transfer rules and staff reduction decisions, along with some others.

Many other items are allowed to be bargained for, but are optional at the discretion of the employer, in this case the Charles City school board.

“While the law may have changed, it doesn’t approach how I move with people,” Fisher said. “It’s about trust, openness and transparency.”

Fisher said he considers the contract the least an employer can do for its employees.

“A contract is actually the low bar for treating people well.” Fisher said. “The contract is a safeguard — and we appreciate the need for that — to make sure people are treated fairly and equitably.”

The CCEA appears to be appreciative of that attitude.

“Mike’s done a great job to say that what’s in the contract now is the bare minimum,” Downing said last week. “The district has been very willing to work with us and talk with us and get our input, as well as us getting their input.”

The district and the CCEA are very close on some of the other issues up for bargaining. Among the items the teachers proposed was an adjustment to banked sick days to provide an increase in paternity and maternity leave, up to a total of eight weeks for the individual. This proposal will combine the individual’s sick and personal leave with leave that has been donated by other employees.

The CCEA is asking for up to 12 weeks in paid maternity leave if an individual has the accumulated sick days. For the birth of a child, the father would be granted five days without loss of pay.

Items the support staff proposed included minor adjustments to holiday pay, personal illness or injury paid leave, and canceled work day compensation. The district’s proposal was very close to the support staff proposal, with some minor differences in language.

Fisher said the interest-based bargaining approach has gone a long way to preventing any surprises in contract negotiations.

“In essence, we’ve been meeting as a negotiations group since the beginning of the school year, to build a rapport and a relationship,” Fisher said. “It all came down to the effort to build trust and relationships with the people we serve.”