The Teton Education Association ratified its master contract with the school district last Friday and was left largely unsatisfied with the overall increases to educators’ salary schedules.
The TEA agreed to ratify the offer last Friday which includes a 4.7 average increase to the base salary amounting to a $2,691 total overall increase to the school budget. The new master contract will provide veteran teaching staff raises between 0.8 and 3 percent. The school board declined to contribute any additional funds toward health care premiums which are set to increase by 6.4 percent for fiscal year 2020 for the lower premium insurance carriers.
“We feel we should not have to shoulder the poor choices — the financial choices — that got us to this spot,” said TEA member and high school teacher Lisie Smith during a July 31 negotiations meeting at the district office. “We are not getting any increases other than what the state allocates. It’s hard for teachers to feel appreciated when they are not seeing anything. We are carrying budgeting.”
The school district had to approve the 2020 fiscal budget in early July that included no budgetary increases. The 2020 budget was based on last year’s teaching salaries and do not take into account the state mandate to increase new teacher salaries because the district was still in negotiation with TEA, a process that started in December 2018 and ended July, 30, 2019.
After the master contract was ratified and adopted by the board on Monday, the district is covering the budget by moving money from the district fund balance. Looking at the budget as a whole, the school board will move $334,000 from the fund balance to cover 2020 budget needs. School board chair Chris Isaacson repeatedly said during last week’s negotiation meeting that she wished she could do more, but that the school budget did not allow for more. Part of the struggle for the school board was realizing 31 teachers who were in the top tier 13th-step.
Every year, the TEA renegotiates the master contract with the school district. This year, the negotiations started in December 2018 and ended July 31, 2019. Both the TEA and the school board have to wrestle with ever changing state mandates for teaching salaries and raises while navigating a budget that has ebbed and flowed this year.
“I blame most of this on the state,” said Beage Atwater, the Region 6 Director for the Idaho Education Association at the Friday meeting, addressing the 14 teachers who attended the public meeting at the middle school. “Then (the state) mandated these new starting salaries, but they are not funding it until next year. I do blame a lot on the legislature here.”
Atwater acknowledged that because of how the state is structuring salaries, requiring districts to pay more to teachers who are just starting their careers in a greater effort for the state of Idaho to retain those teachers, the current method of funding salary increases creates a divisive environment for teachers.
Teaching salary schedules are broken into 13 steps with a starting base of $38,500 as mandated by the state this year and the top salary step sitting at $64,212. The state of Idaho allots the district funds based on Average Daily Attendance numbers. The TEA put forth a new plan to the school board during negotiations to increase Average Daily Attendance. The school board did not accept the new average daily attendance plan from TEA.
This year, the school district will be receiving almost $4.8 million to cover certified staff from the state, an increase of over $4.49 million from last fiscal year. With the local supplemental levy which provides for an additional $3.1 million renewed every other year, these levy funds are used for teaching salaries and to provide funding to classified staff — janitors, bus drivers, food service workers, as well as for programatic needs in the district.
Because of the supplemental levy, the school district hires 120 classified staff persons when the state only allots for 33 positions. The district also hires nine administrators when the state allots for six and 11 more teachers which can also include counseling staff and librarians.
On average, Teton County School District administrators earn 121 percent of the salary of the highest earning teachers in the district who make $64,212. This year the district will pay the superintendent $120,747, Teton Middle School principal $89,571, Teton High School Assistant principal $92,072, Director of Curriculum $88,395, Victor and Tetonia Elementary School principal $79,568, Director of Special Education $75,000, Driggs Elementary School $79,000, Rendezvous Upper Elementary School principal $75,000 and the Teton High School principal $96,820, pending board approval on Monday evening.
TEA cited a variety of increases to the school budget over the last year that were readily approved by the school board including a more than $22,000 increase to the business manager’s salary in the aftermath of the fraudulent bond payment last December, the more than $12,800 increase to district insurance due to the fraud incidents, lawsuits and accident claims.
“I think the board gets jittery that people are not going to vote on the levy over the mascot,” said TEA member and eighth grade teacher Angela Hoopes at last Friday’s meeting. “If that doesn’t pass two years from now, we could be funding only what the state funds and not what the students need.”
While Teton School District pays 20 percent above the state allotment for teachers salaries, or $126,000 more a year than what the state provides, the board does pay 100 percent over the state allotment for administrators and over 200 percent over for classified staff who include bus drivers, paraprofessionals and school administrative staff.
“I’m one of the 0.8 percenters and I have been for a while and I’m frustrated,” said Diane Green, an English teacher for Teton High School. “I heard you and I heard the school board’s lack of interest for coming up with a plan for improving attendance. There is a way to give every teacher a 4 percent increase while still increasing the newer levels that the state is saying we have to (increase). The reality is that they are not interested in coming up with a plan to bring more money into the district.”
“For me, I would like to see us go back and say this isn’t going to work for the teachers,” said Green before the vote on Friday. “It’s divisive. We came up with plans to bring in more money into the district, but (the school board) was not interested. I don’t feel that this is acceptable on so many levels. The district just threw money at the business manager. If they want someone good then they need to do better than 0.8 percent. This to me does not foster working together. It does not tell me in any way, shape or form, I’m valued.”
Monday evening, the school will vote to ratify the teacher’s master contracts. They will also vote to accept administration’s 2019-2020 contracts.
“School boards tell us what is important to them through their budget,” said Hoopes at the July 31 meeting. “You have told us through the strategic plan that what is important is student achievement. I don’t want to go to an extreme, but we will take care of you if you take care of us. A 1 percent increase is a tank of gas a month.”
Hoopes was voted in as the new TEA president taking Amy Soten-Wood’s place for the 2019-2020 school year.