By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
“It’s this team’s position that the board’s last offer is our final offer,” said USD No. 480 lead negotiator Wayne Tate near the end of negotiations Thursday with the Liberal National Education Association team.
From there, an impasse was declared between the two sides. Both LNEA and the district will send a joint letter to mediators, and USD 480 Business and Finance Director Jerry Clay said mediation should begin in about six to eight weeks.
Tate began Thursday’s negotiations with the district’s last offer, which included an additional 1 percent, or $344,700, to the insurance pool and an additional six contract days.
“The other option the board looked at was under the current insurance pool, the board paid approximately 81 percent of a single plan high option,” he said. “If we increase it to $344,700 as proposed, with the same plan, we would pay 71 percent. If you went from a $300 deductible to a $500 deductible, your premium would go to $607.”
Tate said if the number of participants stays the same, about 75 percent would be paid.
“If you went to a $1,000 deductible, the premium drops down to $568, and the pool as it is currently configured would pay approximately 80 percent.”
Tate said the district’s insurance plan would be “one plan fits all.”
Clay said if the premium rises, many classified employees would drop the plan.
“What happens if they have a medical need that won’t allow them to drop that insurance?” LNEA lead negotiator Brent Goodwin said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the people in that pool are not able to do that.”
Goodwin said there were 48 resignations and retirements at the end of the last school year, and those positions are being filled with teachers with less credentials.
“They have an average of 1.54 years of experience,” he said. “Those steps that you’re going to fund on the salary schedule will cost $176,000. With the taxes, $186,000. With the people that we’ve replaced, in actuality, what is happening in the district, rather than having to pay $186,000, you’ve got $101,000 that is coming back to you all because you don’t have to pay $186,000.”
Goodwin said the district’s figures of using $186,000 to fund steps on its salary schedule were incorrect.
“In fact, you’re making money with the new hires compared to those people that left,” he said.
Tate pointed out, however, with the additional $344,000 in the insurance pool, the district would lose about $240,000.
“We’re not going to debate the budget, what’s available and what’s not,” he said. “Our proposal is this is the raise, this is the insurance. If that’s not acceptable, say it’s not acceptable. We understand that. Or make us a counter proposal or tell us we’re at impasse.”
Tate said the district’s offer is what its board of education is willing to put toward salary and benefits.
“They made a board decision,” he said. “That’s their job to make a decision as to how much they are going to allocate to salary and benefits. That’s the decision the board has made. They feel like that’s what’s in the best interest of the district as a whole. Our position is the salary and benefits that proposed by the board is what’s best.”
Goodwin emphasized the teachers the district lost at the end of the school year and that USD 480 made AYP.
“Those people that we replace them with, 32 of them have zero years of experience,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to keep people here. What’s going to happen if you all continue to push the issue for adding days? People are going to leave in droves. That’s not what’s in the best interest of the kids in the school district.”
Board president Dan Diepenbrock said research indicates quality instruction time is what makes a difference.
LNEA member Lee Ann Hebbert said she believes the district has a salary that brings teachers to Liberal, but the rest of the package does not keep them here.
Tate said under the district’s proposal, USD 480 is losing money.
Goodwin agreed with Hebbert saying because of what is offered, teachers continue to leave Liberal.
“I understand that, and that is a board decision, Brent,” Tate said.
Hebbert said she felt the district was not respecting previous proposals from LNEA.
“It seems like from what you’re saying, you don’t like our proposal, let’s go to impasse,” she said. “I’m very disappointed that the board is giving up and going to impasse that easily.”
LNEA member Nancy Miller said Liberal educators have done extraordinary work to raise AYP, and many have used their own money to get extra supplies to make it work.
“We feel like we’ve gone the extra mile,” she said. “We’ve got the results. We’re showing you that it’s working. What else is in this equation that would equal out to being deserving of more compensation? We certainly feel we’ve done our share.”
Tate said the board is given the responsibility to allocate resources to certain areas, and one of those is salaries and benefits.
“They give us as a negotiating team a certain amount of financial authority,” he said. “We come to the bargaining table in good faith. That’s the authority they’ve given us. That’s the offer we’ve made, and that’s it.”
Hebbert pointed to other school districts in Kansas which are cutting contract days to save money.
“If you’re talking that there’s budget cuts and less money, then I don’t get that formula,” she said. “More days is not going to equal less money being spent. There’s going to be more money spent. That makes no sense. That does not add up.”
Goodwin said the LNEA team is negotiating for administration and classified employees, as well as teachers.
“That’s why we believe that there should be more money added to that pool,” he said.
Following a caucus, LNEA came back with an offer for the district which included $400,000 being added to the insurance pool, along with taking administration out of the pool.
“They can still be part of our group, but funding of insurance will not be,” Goodwin said. “As far as salary goes, we would ask that $700 be added to the base. That’s a 1.84 percent increase to the current salary schedule.”
Goodwin said teachers are unwilling to accept extra contract days.
“In light of the fact the district is making AYP, has made for the first time since 2004, there’s no need for additional days,” he said. “The research indicates that this is not cost effective, and the amount of time spent in school is not necessarily correlated with student achievement. We’ve asked for research. We’ve provided you with research, but we have not received any research.”
The district team refused LNEA’s offer, and an impasse was declared.