CC School District, teachers reach contract deal

District Board of Education to meet Friday morning

By Kate Hayden,

As the Iowa House and Senate pushed collective bargaining bills to approval on Thursday afternoon, negotiators for Charles City school district staff and administration met at a table in the cafeteria of the former middle school.

At 6:30 p.m., the two sides signed a tentative agreement on a one-year contract, which is expected to be approved by the Board of Education at a 10:55 a.m. meeting Friday morning.

“It’s probably the fastest settlement that the district has ever had. We’ll see where all of this new legislation falls into play, and then we’ll start negotiating again in a year,” Board of Education President Scott Dight said. “We were very pleased that we were able to settle with the teachers.”

“It was a team effort. Both sides worked hard and came to an agreement,” Tyler Downing, a negotiations team member for the teaching staff, said on Thursday night. “It’s a win-win for both sides and it works, so it’s frustrating to fix a problem that’s not there. That was proven tonight in Charles City and the last week or so throughout the state of Iowa.”

School districts across Iowa raced to settle teacher contracts before the passage of the collective bargaining bill.

Thursday was the second meeting of negotiations that started just before state Republicans announced new proposals to limit public employee negotiations. By 11 a.m., the Board of Education announced a public meeting on Friday at the 500 North Grand building in an effort to accompany a potential, speedy settlement with staff unions.

Conference rooms in the former middle school were available to teacher and support staff negotiation teams during Thursday’s meeting, Superintendent Dr. Dan Cox told negotiators, in an attempt to streamline the process.

Charles City isn’t the only district to attempt a quick settlement in otherwise routine negotiations. District negotiators at Nashua-Plainfield, Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock and North Butler had already settled staff contracts by Thursday, and the Des Moines Register reported more than 140 school districts in Iowa settled contracts in anticipation of a new law.

Districts, including Charles City, also attempted to negotiate multiple-year contracts with teaching and support staff, to give both sides more time to understand a new law before the next return to a bargaining table. Both the support and teaching staffs in Charles City proposed two-year contracts, although the teaching staff agreed to settle with a one-year contract Thursday night.

The Republican legislation will prohibit workers from collectively negotiating over health insurance, extra pay and several other items currently covered by law, the Associated Press reported.

“It’s unfortunate that common sense hasn’t prevailed, that a more moderate approach couldn’t be found,” Dr. Cox told the Press.

The speed Republican legislators at the state have taken with the bill is surprising, Charles City Board of Education member Robin Macomber said.

“The state of urgency that has taken course, I don’t see the need for the state of urgency,” Macomber said.

“To cut off debate so quickly, to not allow people to have conversations — if the School Board here, or the City Council were to do that with something major, it would be bad news in Charles City,” Dight said. “A lot of people are upset … a lot of public employees, not just school.”

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is not expected to sign the legislation until Friday, or potentially until Monday, Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, told the Press. If Branstad signed the bill into law before the Board of Education approves staff contracts, the district would have to restart the bargaining process under the new parameters.

“It was nice to see six Republicans from the House vote against it. That was nice to see a little progress,” Downing said. “It is what it is, and I think the school district showed they’re willing to work with us no matter what’s going on in Des Moines.”

As well as agreeing to a one-year contract instead of two years, the final tentative agreement between teachers and administration clarified language and a reserve fund pool from the district to cover insurance costs. The teachers’ insurance will remain the same, Downing said.

At the start of the afternoon’s meetings, 14 members of the teaching staff sat in as support for the negotiations team during the district’s initial proposal. As the team went off to deliberate in a conference room, the supporting audience broke out in brief applause.