Union has a 'good start' in negotiations

The teachers union and school district are trying to pass a contract for 2007-08.

Published June 27, 2007

United School Employees of Pasco and district negotiators have passed the first items of the 2007-08 contract.

And they've hit their first stumbling blocks.

The two parties approved measures for teachers and school-related personnel during negotiations Monday and Tuesday, including a policy to supplement the military salary of employees who are called to active duty.

But Tuesday afternoon, the union and district couldn't reach an immediate agreement on three of the nine items brought up for discussion.

"It was a good start, " said Jim Ciadella, the union's chief negotiator for teachers. "The first meeting is used to set ground rules, discuss the main themes and sign off on things we know we want to continue. It was normal."

The items of contention were all proposed by the union.

The longest debate came when the union suggested moving into the body of the contract an item allowing teachers' children to attend the schools where their parents teach. The item is currently listed in a memorandum of understanding that's attached to the back of the contract.

Since it's in a memo, the item is discussed each year, but if it were in the body of the contract, it wouldn't merit such discussion. The union said its only motivation to move the item is to cut down on paperwork, since the memo hasn't been changed in years, Ciadella said.

"If it's working effectively, why not move it to the body of the contract?" Ciadella said.

Terry Rhum, the district's chief negotiator, said he'd look into it, but he didn't want to guarantee that students could have that choice for an indefinite period of time, especially at the rate that schools are growing.

And there's been talk of designating someone to deal solely with student assignments, so the circumstances might change.

"I'm afraid we can't anticipate those issues, " he said. "We want to continue it on a year-to-year basis."

The district also didn't allow an item regarding a substitute teacher task force to be moved into the body of the contract. And it didn't pass an item allowing a special education task force because of the wording.

But parties renewed an item that allows teachers in the reserves who are called to active duty to receive full salary for the first 30 days of their assignments. After that, the district pays the difference between their teaching and military salaries. They renewed a similar policy for school-related personnel Monday.

They also renewed an air quality task force, a paperwork reduction task force and the block schedule at Mitchell High School and Seven Springs Middle School.

Still, the most important issues have yet to be discussed. The union said salary and benefits top their list this year, but those won't be negotiated until later in the process.

"We want to retain and reward teachers and maintain a competitive benefit plan, " Ciadella said.

Both sides hope to reach a contract agreement by August.

Carrie Ritchie can be reached at critchie@sptimes.com.