Douglas County School District officials counter attack
Douglas County School District officials spoke out Wednesday against accusations made by the Douglas County Professional Educators Association in a meeting Tuesday.
“The union leadership for the county is working with state leadership to come after us. And what they want I don’t know,” said School Board President Don Forrester.
The association called the meeting to brief teachers on the circumstances that led to a halt in contract negotiations between the association and the district.
The association proposed a 4.7 percent salary increase for teachers. The average salary in 1998 was $41,900.
Susan Lacey, negotiations director for the association, said the funds were available because the district was left with an ending balance of $2.6 million.
Rick Kester, director of business services for the district, said the district does have that money, but it is a one-time balance and salaries are an ongoing cost.
“I don’t blame them for wanting a salary increase; they deserve one,” Kester said. “However, salary goes on forever. Where are you going to get the funding?”
Kester said that if the money were put into salaries, the district would have to make other cuts such as staff reduction and that would lead to increased class size.
He said the funds for salary increases must come from the Legislature.
“We fought very hard in this last legislative session to get salary increases funded, but we didn’t win that fight,” Kester said.
He said the association asked for $3.5 million worth of proposals.
“It’s a whole variety of cost issues, not just salary,” he said.
Forrester said he is also in favor of a salary increase.
“I would love to give teachers a raise. The Legislature chose not to give us the money,” he said. “What’s frustrating is that the union is telling its members that the money is there and we’re not giving it to them – that’s not true.”
Lacey said that after meeting with the district nine times and getting nowhere, the association asked for mediation.
Mediation is a process in which a third party is called to talk with both sides and try to help them find a middle ground.
The district denied mediation.
“It’s nuts to go to a mediator when there’s never been any negotiation,” said Forrester. “It’s a union ploy.”
Forrester said that mediation is typically called after both sides have presented their proposals and have offered a series of counter-proposals and are close to settling.
He said they had not yet begun the negotiation process. The association presented a set of 24 proposals and the district presented its proposals. After reading the district’s proposals, the association declared an impasse and filed for mediation.
“That’s not the way the process is supposed to work,” Forrester said. “If we allowed mediation to happen, then next year the same thing would happen and there would never be any negotiations.”
Forrester said the school board must look out for the public interest.
“Our job as trustees is to analyze the facts and make a decision in the best interest of the public,” he said.
Kester said the district’s position has been misunderstood.
“I hate to see it turned into an issue of the district against the teachers,” he said. “That’s not the issue at all.”