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Monday, October 08, 2012 10:26 PM

School board, teachers union pass stalemate, reach new deal

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer

After months of negotiating, Ottawa school teachers have a contract for the 2012-2013 school year.

Ottawa school board members voted 7-0 Monday night to approve the contract, which includes a 3.5-percent raise in base salary for teachers. Teachers already had voted 82-65 to ratify the agreement, which was presented by the school board to the Ottawa Education Association Sept. 24. The education association represents the district’s teachers.

The contract also included a $15 increase in health insurance per month per teacher — increasing the board’s contribution to $435 per month for each teacher, according to the agreement.

The issue of teacher transfers had been a sticking point, David White, school board member, said in a Sept. 25 interview.

White, who had been representing the school board in the teacher negotiations, said the board and the negotiating team for the Ottawa Education Association had resolved most of their differences through mediation — except teacher transfers.

And White had said the board was holding firm on that issue.

The previous policy required the board take several steps before it can transfer a teacher, White said, including requesting a voluntary transfer and then posting the position.

If the posting process doesn’t work, he said, an involuntary transfer process would begin in which the administration would select three teachers based on their qualifications.

A teacher with the most seniority could have rejected the transfer, and on down the line — rather than the board having the final say on teacher transfers. The board wanted the option to transfer a veteran teacher if it would be in the best interests of the students and the district to do so, White said.

The Ottawa school district does have a focus school — Eugene Field Elementary School — on the state’s list of schools that need to show academic improvement. White in an earlier interview didn’t rule out the possibility that the district might need to transfer a teacher to that school to aid in the effort to improve its academic success.

But White had said Sept. 25 he didn’t see the change in the teacher transfer policy becoming an issue in the future. He reiterated that point Monday night.

With the board and teachers ratifying the contract, educators gave up the right for senior teachers to opt out of a transfer.

“I’m glad the contract has been resolved and we can move forward,” Dean Katt, superintendent of Ottawa schools, said. “I think the contract was fair to both sides.”

Megan Morris, first-year president of the Ottawa Education Association, said Monday the negotiating team decided it was time to put the contract to a vote of the teachers.

“We got to a point where the negotiations had reached a standstill,” Morris said. “So, we decided to let the teachers decide at that point, and that [82-65 vote] was the outcome.”

After the vote Monday, Bill Allegre, school board member, thanked the negotiating teams from both sides for their hard work to bring the contract to a resolution so the district could move forward.

White said after the meeting Monday he was pleased teachers approved the contract. He said both sides had worked through a long list of issues successfully — save for the transfer issue.

“I’m sure both sides didn’t get everything they wanted,” White said. “But I thought the contract was fair to both sides. And I truly believe the teachers will benefit from this contract.”

Doug Carder is senior writer for The Herald. Email him at dcarder@ottawaherald.com

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