By BECKY KISER
“It’s a line in the sand,” USD 489 school board member Greg Schwartz said Tuesday night during teacher contract negotiations.
“The board has no interest in binding arbitration,” Schwartz reported to representatives of the Hays National Education Association.
The current contract includes an “Arbitration of Interests Option” for unresolved issues in the negotiation procedure for teachers, in which the “arbitrators decision will be binding on both parties.”
“We’ll look at other means such as mediation or a hearing officer,” Schwartz added.
Kim Schneweis, HNEA co-chair, said “We want to stay with arbitration. It’s quicker, cheaper and more private than a public hearing.”
“But we (USD 489) are a public agency,” countered Schwartz. There was disagreement between the sides whether lawyers would necessarily be involved in either scenario or whether there would be cost savings to the district.
“We’ve used binding arbitration once in 25 years,” according to Kathy Wagoner, HNEA co-chair.
Due process was also addressed.
“The board is willing to look at a new process which gives teachers a right to a hearing before the board,” Schwartz said.
Hays school board members spent 90 minutes in executive session Monday evening at the end of their work session to discuss teacher contract negotiations.
The members, absent President James Leiker, reversed their idea of changing the Leave Policy to Paid Time Off (PTO).
“The board wants to remove PTO language and the Leave plan would remain as it is in the current contract,” Schwartz informed the teachers group.
USD 489 also wants to cap accumulated sick leave buyout at 80 days, a move that would also change some longtime employees’ state KPERS retirement monies.
“There is no cap today,” Schwartz said.
“That’s a big step out of the lines,” replied union committee member Zach Butte, “and changes our perspective.”
Butte said he will regroup his Leave Committee “to consider what we might be missing.”
“I don’t want to minimize the importance of what the whole objective is of education,” said Schwartz, “but you guys are fighting for contract rights, and we’re trying to protect the district and provide those benefits and the pay that we can so we keep and retain teachers but also to spend as little on that as possible so we have it (money) to make sure we have enough teachers, so that we have additional programs, we have classroom supplies, so we can cut fees for parents so they don’t have to pay for enrollment — which they’re not supposed to anyway.”
“Those are all the aspects we’re looking at and we can’t do that unless we shift the money — there’s no way to do it. We have one means to raise additional money and it’s failed twice,” he added.
USD 489 patrons rejected a proposed 1 percent increase in the Local Option Budget (LOB) a year ago in June and also in April 2009, according to Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus.
One major issue not addressed this week was salary negotiations. It’s expected to be discussed at the next meeting.
Negotiations are scheduled to resume Tuesday, June 23, at 5.p.m. in the Rockwell Administration Center. The meeting will be broadcast live by Hays High School on Eagle Cable TV Channel 13.