School Board rejects teachers’ first proposal

Friday, February 22, 2019

After Alta-Aurelia’s school district garnered four early retirements and received news of a 2.1 percent state funding increase, the School Board is in negotiation with the teacher’s union.

Collective bargaining begins

A $2,100 flat increase for all staff proposed by the Alta-Aurelia Education Association was immediately rejected earlier in February, prompting further negotiations this week, after four teachers took advantage of the district’s early retirement incentive this year.

The Association’s total package increase request amounted to a 3.82 percent increase, or 4.59 percent base wage increase absent benefit considerations. The total package increase would have cost $169,322.

Most public employees in Buena Vista County received a 3 percent raise this year.

The School Board countered with a base wage increase of $0, proposing that all teaching staff remain on the 2017-18 salary schedule step for the 2019-20 contract year.

Teachers received an $850 wage increase after last year’s negotiations.

They also proposed removing all steps from the salary schedule. Current Educational Lanes, which allow for higher incremental pay with further education, will remain a part of the schedule.

The Board went into a closed session this week to further discuss collective bargaining negotiations.

Early retirements accepted

Four teachers accepted the school’s one-time offer of 50 percent of base salary. Though the school will lose a collective 131 years of experience with their retirements, they will have the opportunity to high new teachers and flip the salary schedule, saving the district a substantial amount over a longer outlook.

A new teacher with a Bachelor’s degree starts on the first step of the salary schedule at $36,398. A teacher on the highest step with a Master’s degree would retire with an annual salary of $54,860. Nearly 35 percent of K-12 Iowa teachers hold a Master’s degree.

It was last offered in Alta and Aurelia two and five years ago, respectively.

“It’s easier to prune the budget down now rather than cutting it down later,” Superintendent Lynn Evans said in a previous School Board meeting as they considered the offer.

Incentive funding of about $170,000 per year will run out in three years. That funding, called Joint Employment Funding, is given to schools for whole grade sharing between districts, and carries over for three years after a successful reorganization soon after grade sharing starts.

“We have to prepare for when it won’t be there, so you have to be mindful,” Evans said, so that budget cuts don’t need to be made later.

Since Alta and Aurelia reorganized as a single district, Evans said the school’s management fund has been healthy. The management fund is restricted in what it can be spent on. Taking early retirement out of that fund also helps to protect the general fund.

The superintendent previously speculated that two or three teachers might take advantage of the offer. A cap of four was set.

The incentive will be paid out over two payments, the first in July 2020, so the school’s management fund doesn’t take the hit all at once.

2% not enough to catch up

Schools statewide are now preparing their budgets around the new 2.06 percent per-pupil increase in State Supplemental Aid (formerly called “allowable growth”) signed by Governor Reynolds after advancing through the Republican-controlled House and Senate. Reynolds asked them to bring a bill with 2.3 percent.

Most education advocates asked for 3 percent to keep up with rising costs and new school expectations.

Superintedent Evans says that amount is still not enough to keep up with a rut of 1 percent increases that have amounted to half the cost of inflation.

“Two percent still falls way short of what schools need,” said Evans. He said school districts have had to contend over the last 15 years with what he calls the “lowest funding period we’ve had for schools, on average, in history,” for as far back as the numbers have been documented.

Broken down on a per-pupil basis, each 1 percent increase means about $67 per student. Evans says that buys roughly one textbook.

“When [parents] hear that, they really understand how small of an am ount that is,” he said. “So they need to make an effort to catch us back up a bit.”

The lackluster increases over the last decade have hit rural districts with flat or declining enrollment particularly hard, effectively giving them a negative increase in their budget, per-pupil, with population losses.

Supplemental State Aid (formerly known as “allowable growth”) set in eight of the last nine years has lagged behind the historical annual cost increase of educating students.

In that context, this raise would be the third highest SSA experienced by school districts in 10 years, barely breaking above the 1.9 percent cost increase estimated for fiscal year 2020 by Iowa’s Revenue Estimating Conference.

Enrollment trends

Evans said Monday that, with current trends and data, he’s anticipating similar sections for the next school year, with the addition of a first grade section. The school currently has three kindergarten sections, two first grade sections, two second grade sections and three third grade sections.

Fourth grade will be going from 33 to 54 kids.