COEUR d'ALENE - Coeur d'Alene School District employees are in line for a merry Christmas.
And a little more along the way, too.
After two hours of back-and-forth negotiations Thursday - at issue is the distribution of surplus school district funds - the school board and Coeur d'Alene Education Association tentatively agreed on the following:
* A 2 percent increase to the base salary of certificated district employees.
* Giving a "step," or a scheduled pay increase based on duration of employment, back to employees who did not receive one in previous school years.
* A one-time payment of approximately $325 for all benefited employees.
The CEA, otherwise known as the teachers' union, was voting on the proposal Thursday night. The school board was scheduled to vote this morning. The Press will post a story on the outcome of those votes today on cdapress.com.
The special negotiation came from what one negotiator called "a pleasant problem" - an excess fund balance that exceeded estimates. Initial projections led to a memorandum of understanding that stated any funds beyond the $737,000 excess already distributed would be given as a one-time payment to benefited employees.
Both sides agreed to meet one time to discuss alternatives to the initial MOU, with the stipulation that if no agreement was reached by 6 p.m., the initial agreement of a one-time payment of approximately $1,500 would be enacted.
According to CEA chief negotiator Tim Sanford, their opening proposal met the "intent" of the initial MOU, which was to increase salaries across the board. That proposal came in two parts and asked for a base salary increase of $450 for classified, certified and administrative employees and the recovery of a lost step that had occurred.
"Our primary focus is on fairness. The intent is to take what was agreed to and distribute that money equally in terms of real dollars," said Derek Kohles, president of the CEA. "The reason for that is that as we cut insurance and other things - cuts have happened to all staff in terms of dollars."
After the CEA negotiators gave their initial proposal, the board negotiators met privately to discuss their counter-proposal.
Chief board negotiator Kelly Ostrom and the rest of her team returned with a counter-proposal for the CEA team, stating that while the CEA focused on "fair," hers focused on "equal."
The board's proposal would give a 2 percent increase to the base salaries of certificated employees, give back a step, and give a one-time payment of $396.
"In our proposal people end up with a nice increase and it's an ongoing increase," Ostrom said.
Sanford and his team took exception with the proposal, stating that it took funds from the lowest-paid employees and gave it to the highest.
"We don't call that equal," Sanford said. "We are talking about a unique situation. We are talking about money that is already ready, according to contract, to be delivered out equally."
The two parties continued deliberations, both in public and private, prior to the CEA hesitantly accepting the board team's revision of their initial proposal.
"Our team is having a lot of trouble with this proposal," Kohles said. "But when it comes down to it, we do have to accept."