Collective bargaining law will impact MCSD

By: 
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     The Express offers this series on the state’s new collective bargaining law, and how it will impact locals in the fields of public employment (city workers, healthcare employees, and those who work in our schools).

     On Feb. 17, Governor Terry Branstad signed a new collective bargaining bill into law. This new law will affect public school teachers, including those employed by the Monticello Community School District (MCSD).

     The school district and the Monticello Education Association (MEA) come together every year to negotiate master contracts. Superintendent Brian Jaeger and the difference now, with the new law, will be “what we include in the conversation.”

     Negotiations will have to be in place before June 30, 2017, when the current teacher contracts end. Before Feb. 17, the district and the MEA already started contract negotiations. Unfortunately, they were not signed and in place before Feb. 17, which means the process had to start all over again.

     “We presented our side at one of the school board meetings,” explained Jaeger. “Fourteen days after our initial proposal, the law saw signed.”

     He said with the new law, as he understands it, there is one thing that is mandatory for bargaining: base wages. There are also certain topics that are permissible to discuss, as well as those that are now excluded from bargaining.

     In Monticello, teachers have a base wage of $30,704. From there it increases and moves along the salary scale based on level of education and years in the field.

     “A raise is automatically built in each year,” said Jaeger. That item, he said, can no longer be negotiated. However, Jaeger said the school board is looking at possibly outlining those benefits within a district employee handbook.

     Sick days, for example, in terms of how many to grant and how those are defined, would also be added to a handbook.

     “We want to make sure everyone knows the process,” said Jaeger.

     The handbook would also have to be approved by the school board before it was final and put into action.

     “That handbook will be a change this year for the district,” remarked Jaeger. “But we don’t expect any significant changes at all,” he said in terms of benefits added to the handbook.

     Shannon Guyer is the chief negotiator for the MEA. While not every teacher is required to be a part of the MEA, Jaeger said they are still represented.

     “We value every single person in this district,” he said. “They all affect the kids’ lives here every day.”

     Guyer said she has a team of teachers here who “offer valuable input in the bargaining process.”

     She is proud to report that the MCSD has 87 percent of its teachers involved in the association.

     “Iowa is a right-to-work state,” explained Guyer, “which means that employees are not required to join their local association or union.”

     Those who are members of the MEA are also then members of the Iowa State Educations Association (ISEA) and the National Education Association.

     “Members become part of the professional organization at the local, state and national levels,” said Guyer.

     With this being Jaeger’s first year in the negotiating process in Monticello, he said it’s all new, despite the new law.

     “I have no point of comparison,” he said as to whether an overhaul in Iowa’s collective bargaining law was needed.

     As a former educator, Jaeger sat in on the process in the past, but nothing that provided him with the big picture of it all.

     “The decisions made by the legislature bring more of the decision-making process to the school district,” he said of making it a localized decision now. “So the board will make some decisions for the handbook and what goes in it.”

     On the flip side, Jeager said the MEA was used to being part of many of the decisions in the past. The new law curtails that now.

     “It is now more important than ever that teachers have a professional organization that advocates on behalf of educators and students,” expressed Guyer. “Advocacy for our students has not changed,” she said despite the change in the bargaining law.

     While base pay is mandatory for collective bargaining, Jaeger said what is now excluded includes: insurance, political leaves of absence, supplemental pay, evaluation procedures, staff reduction procedures, dues for inions/associations, and retirement plans. Those topics that are perhaps permissible include: hours, vacation, holidays, leaves of absence, overtime compensation, seniority, job classification, in-services, and more.

     “But,” Jaeger stipulated, “both sides would have to agree in order to permit these topics.”

     Aside from the collective bargaining law, though, Jaeger shared that the MCSD will be experiencing “a bit of a budget shortfall this year.

     “How will we make up for that?” he asked.

     The district lost 24 students in enrollment, which means less funding per pupil. Add to that the state’s 1.1 percent that was approved State Supplemental Aid, a decrease from years’ past.

     “There will be a reduction this year,” said Jaeger, “and even more next year.”

     That said, Jaeger said it’s still important to reward the district’s teachers.

     Jaeger’s ultimate goal would be to see negotiations start earlier next year, with the teachers’ contracts approved earlier, giving the district time to hire new staff if needed earlier as well.

     “So many changes are coming so quickly,” gathered Jaeger. “We’re all learning at the same pace together.”

     He said while the new law is in place, many questions remain unanswered, even as negations with the MEA begin again.

     “Change creates anxiety, and we hate for our staff to feel anxious,” Jaeger said.

     Guyer offered, “We are structuring the many ways we will all work together so that the impact on our students and out profession remains positive.” She said the line of communication remains open to continue the support of competitive wages and benefits to attract, as well as retain “the best and brightest educators in Monticello.”

     With 33 public school districts in the State of Iowa, Jaeger said the majority of those did not reach bargaining agreements before the law was signed on Feb. 17.

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