Quiet on the negotiations front

Coeur d'Alene school district, teacher talks to continue through summer

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COEUR d'ALENE - The summer hush will fall over Coeur d'Alene schools this year without a contract agreement in place between the district's board of trustees and the local teachers union.

The contract being negotiated is for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Local school districts are still required to have balanced budgets in place by the end of June, even if contract-related budget items remain unresolved.

In Coeur d'Alene, health insurance benefits and salary adjustments reflecting experience and education are two items that are still on the table.

Wendell Wardell, the district's chief operating officer and a member of the district's negotiating team, said he has a balanced budget put together, one that includes changes that don't need to be negotiated, such as staffing levels.

"We have vacancies. They won't be filled until we've reached a settlement," Wardell said.

Tentative individual contracts will be going out to staff next week, he said. The documents are provided by the state, and include language that allows for them to be changed after a negotiated contract settlement has been reached.

"The teachers will have the certainty that they have jobs in place, and we can budget for salaries," Wardell said.

It's likely the board will amend the budget once a settlement has been reached.

The negotiating teams last met May 14, a week before a school board election that unseated current trustees Ann Seddon and Brent Regan. Their terms will end June 30 and their challengers, Dave Eubanks and Christa Hazel, will be sworn in on July 1. Tom Hearn won an open seat; he will be sworn in then also.

Regan, along with Trustee Tom Hamilton, has been on the board's negotiating team.

After the election, a May 28 negotiating session was canceled and talks were suspended.

"The old board feels that strongly that they should not be involved," Wardell said."Both sides agreed that was the best thing to do."

Under the law, the existing master contract articles will expire on June 30, unless an agreement is reached to keep them in place. Since the teams won't be meeting, the articles will expire, although they can be reinstated after July 1, if both negotiating teams agree.

Wardell, who is completing his first year with the district, said he's aware that negotiations have, at times through the years, continued well into the school year.

Back in 2005, a settlement was not reached until December, and in 2006, a settlement was reached on Aug. 31.

Last year, when the now-repealed Students Come First laws were in place, teachers were restricted to negotiating salary and benefits only, and boards were required to impose their last best offer if an agreement was not reached by June 10. In Coeur d'Alene, a settlement was reached in time.

Wardell does not anticipate that Coeur d'Alene's trustees will declare an impasse and impose a last best offer to teachers.

"We don't think we should have to do that. We think that when the new board's in place that we'll be able to reach common ground and find an agreement that works for everyone," Wardell said.

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