Currently, teachers are working without a contract, after a two-year contract expired at the end of the fiscal year. At a school board meeting last week, teachers urged the board to negotiate a deal that “recognizes the commitment shown” by Twin Valley teachers, and will allow the school to attract and retain teachers.
According to teacher representatives, contract negotiations have been at a standstill, with both sides unwilling to budge. Twin Valley Elementary School teachers Amy Swanson and Chris Walling say that one round of mediation has failed. This week the two sides will meet for a “fact-finding” session, which Twin Valley School Board Chair Seth Boyd says will include mediation.
The teachers say they agreed to a partial wage freeze, forgoing salary increases twice in the last three years, and the short, two-year contract in acknowledgement of the board’s fiscal constraints and the uncertainty of Wilmington and Whitingham’s K-12 consolidation. “One of our points is that we want to have a longer contract period,” says Swanson. Previous contract periods have been three or four years. Swanson says a two-year contract means the terms of teachers’ employment are less secure. “If we have another two-year contract, next year we’ll have to start negotiating again. We want a longer contract for stability.”
“We want to focus on teaching kids, not turn around and start this process all over again,” adds Walling.
But the contract period isn’t teachers’ only demand. Salaries, annual pay raises, and step increases are all a matter of contention between the two sides. “We hope the new contract will reflect the commitment we give to kids on a daily basis,” Swanson says.
“We hope (the contract) will reflect what we’re worth more than their latest offer,” Walling said. “We can’t agree on the terms of the contract.”
Boyd says the impasse is a case of two sides that have, so far, been unwilling to compromise on some of the contract issues. “There are two sides at the table,” he says, “and both sides have been fairly firm in holding to what they believe is a fair contract.”
Boyd says the last two-year contract agreement was connected to consolidation. “We were unsure of the structure and what a consolidated budget would look like. Both sides agreed with the two-year timing.”
Boyd notes that the board expected the schools to be fully consolidated – with a joint elementary school in Wilmington and a joint middle/high school in Whitingham. Thanks to permitting delays, however, the middle/high school in Whitingham is still under construction and the board is operating three schools instead of two. “We’re essentially a year behind,” Boyd said. “Is that a factor? Yeah, maybe. In the current fiscal year we’re still under this transition structure, we won’t realize the full consolidation structure until next year. When we looked at the timing of the contract and consolidation, they were supposed to align. We’re not quite aligned.”
But Boyd says he expects the fact-finding and mediation to produce an agreement soon. “I think we’ll be finished that day or soon after,” he says. “Board members would like nothing more than to have our teachers working under a contract that both sides feel is fair and equitable. I think this has taken longer because both sides have stood their ground.”
Walling says it’s less clear how long a settlement may take, depending on the outcome of the fact-finding and mediation. “It could be the end of January or beginning of February before we have a contract in place.”