SL teachers ask 6.6% boost in benefits

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

'Good pay for good teachers'

Storm Lake teachers are asking for a benefits increase that would cost the district almost half a million dollars for the next school year, but have offered to scale down their requested pay raise depending on the size of the budget hit the district takes on their insurance costs.

The Storm Lake Education Association made their initial proposal to district officials Monday in a brief, amiable meeting.

Rick Sheidel, representing the teachers, requested a base teachers salary of $25,085 for the 2004-2005 academic year, if the district's insurance cost is increased by 20 percent. But if the insurance cost goes up 30 percent, they would drop their wage request to $24,842.

Either way, the cost of the benefit package would increase about 6.6 percent and cost the district about $497,000, Sheidel said. The teachers group said it is reserving the right to move dollars around in the package - that is, to increase the salaries if the insurance costs come in lower than anticipated.

The proposal also seeks to raise wages for the tennis and golf head an assistant coaches to the same level as for the other sports, and adds pay for a set designer for middle school musicals and a staff moderator for middle school art competitions.

The groups set their ground rules for the coming negotiations. A second meeting will be held January 21, 4 p.m., for the district to respond with a counter-offer for teachers. After that, negotiation will proceed, with arbitration possible if the two sides do not reach agreement.

"You have your team, and we have ours, and we both can bring in anyone we see fit for the discussions," Super-intendent Bill Kruse told Sheidel. "You will probably also see a request to close future negotiations meetings."

Both groups will also have the right to caucus during the negotiations, and the school district will provide the teachers' group with a place to huddle in private if necessary.

Sheidel said Iowa ranks around 35th in the nation in teacher pay, and he feels Storm Lake educator pay is around average for the state, with pay levels largely determined by the size of the district - the bigger, the better the paycheck.

"We feel that we would at least like to maintain our position in regard to the rest of Iowa. Of course, we would like our state to be more competitive also, but that will take action from the legislature," Sheidel said.

Storm Lake has an exceptional crop of teachers, and as a larger district than any in the surrounding area, it has a competitive advantage in landing the best teachers available in the region when a position comes open, he said. "A lot of good teachers are interested in coming here."

With spiking insurance costs, teachers had seen little actual pay raises until last year, he said. "We are working hard for the families of this district. Good teachers should have good salaries."

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