Friday, April 18, 2014

Finally a deal: Teacher reacts to new offer

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 10/18/2013

Ottawa school district teachers voted overwhelmingly to ratify a teachers’ contract Friday morning, Megan Morris said.

Morris, president of the Ottawa Education Association, said she was pleased with the outcome. The association represents the district’s teachers.

Ottawa school district teachers voted overwhelmingly to ratify a teachers’ contract Friday morning, Megan Morris said.

Morris, president of the Ottawa Education Association, said she was pleased with the outcome. The association represents the district’s teachers.

“Teachers can now have the weight of this off of their shoulders as we continue to do what is best for our students,” Morris said Friday. “It is nice to have had the opportunity through this process to share with the public and with the school board what teachers are willing to do and the things we are willing to sacrifice every day for the children in our classrooms. While we don’t expect a constant pat on the back, we, just like anyone else in any profession, like to hear that we are appreciated.”

The school board voted 7-0 Monday night to authorize its negotiating team to meet with OEA representatives and offer a 0.5 percent raise in base pay for all teachers, plus step and column movement on the district’s salary grid for qualifying teachers.

The school board also authorized a $500 stipend for each licensed staff member on the condition Ottawa’s anticipated state aid remained intact after the state conducts its annual audit of the district’s full-time equivalent enrollment numbers for students who qualify for free-and-reduced lunches. The audit should occur sometime between mid-December and February, district officials said.  

Brian Kraus, assistant superintendent who has been involved in the negotiation process with the teachers union, said he was pleased the teachers accepted the board’s proposal, ending negotiations that started in March.

“There’s no benefit to either group to stretch out the negotiations,” Kraus said Friday.

Now that teachers have ratified the contract, it will be forwarded to the school board, which would have to vote to approve the contract for it to become official. Kraus said he anticipated the school board would vote on the contract at its 7 p.m. Oct. 28 meeting in the district office, 1404 S. Ash St., Ottawa.

The school board and teachers union had been at odds over the education association’s proposed 0.5 percent raise in base pay. The school board had been unwilling to commit to the raise, because of financial uncertainty tied to state aid, district administrative officials and school board members had said. Negotiations stalled, and the district declared an impasse in September.

But the official Sept. 20 enrollment numbers showed 60 more students qualified for free-and-reduced lunches for the 2013-2014 school year, compared to last year, which would generate an additional $279,000 in state aid for the school district, Kraus said.

Kraus told board members Monday night that 50.2 percent — or 1,200 of 2,390.7 students — qualified for free-and-reduced lunches, based on full-time equivalent weighting numbers. Kindergartners count as a half student under the full-time equivalent formula, as one example for the fractional count.

Each year, the district’s enrollment numbers are audited at the state level, which usually results in the district gaining or losing a few students, Kraus said. If Ottawa loses six students as a result of the audit, that would drop the district to 49.9 percent in the free-and-reduced lunches category, which would shave about $135,000 from the estimated additional $279,000 in state aid, Kraus said.

“Even if we drop below the 50 percent threshold, because of the number of new free-and-reduced students we have, we’re pretty much guaranteed $142,000 [in additional state funding],” Kraus said Monday night. “The step/column and 0.5 percent raise is $135,771, so that is sustainable, even if we were to drop below the 50 percent.”

Morris, a first-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, 1102 N. Milner Road, was glad a deal could be reached, she said, because it was not good for morale to go into mid-October without a contract. Morris appreciated the public’s support during the negotiations, she said.

“Because of the recent publicity teachers have gotten — due to the contract issues — I have had more support from coworkers, parents and the public in general, and that is very gratifying,” she said. “Ottawa teachers really are out there doing everything they can to help lead our kids to success, and I am so proud of them for not only being great teachers but for standing up for themselves through the recent contract negotiations.”

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