Riley School Board And Teachers Still Without Contract

With their previous agreement having effectively expired with the Aug. 13 start of the 2018-19 academic year, both the Riley Consolidated District 18 School Board and the Riley Teachers Association have been meeting regularly and working toward the completion of a new contract. However, a major problem unfolding an accord involves the “lane change” pay increases for advanced education which have not been applied.

The Nov. 19 school board meeting was attended by an estimated 35 people with an overall atmosphere of support for the concerns of the teachers including out-of-pocket expenses incurred with supplies for the classroom, as well as the pay increases being a hindrance to the “family environment” between teachers, students, and community. At issue are several teachers that pursued advanced education and not been given pay upgrades, as allowed through the previous contracts. Although the lack of a new contract has temporarily reverted binding understandings to the previous stipulations, the continued education and its benefits are a source of contention.

“This is the third time, since Aug., I have asked for the lane change, with no response,” said teacher Carole Mortimer, during the meeting’s public comment section. “The option is open (for litigation). I’m giving a good faith effort for the board to make the right decision. I will fight for what I’m due and will file when I feel the time is right.” Mortimer is seeking the increase, after earning a Master’s degree, while Gretchen Mallegna, another teacher who also earned a Master’s degree, eventually settled with the board. Close to retirement, Teresa Wistead and Cathi Kunde have both taught for nearly 26 years, and earned nine credit hours through Master’s level course work to qualify for the “lane change.”

Six other audience members spoke at the meeting, all in support of the teachers. “I’m retired, after teaching for thirty years, and in my opinion, this is about integrity,” said Carol Kallal. “They’ve earned the (degrees) and are entitled to what they should be earning. This is shameful. This is my life, and teachers are my family.”

Following the meeting, District Superintendent Christine Conklin spoke about the efforts on both sides in working toward mutual goals. “As a board, they believe in the process and they don’t want to do anything to hinder either side from dealing in good faith,” she said. “It’s a process.” Board member Don Coffman, noted, “We started negotiations back in March, to get out ahead of this process and the negotiations. They made a counter-proposal Nov. 8, and we, in turn, made another proposal to the union. The school board held a special meeting Nov. 12 to discuss it. We met with the teachers Nov. 14. At this point, the ball is in their court to do this.”

The association’s Co-President, Richelle Lagerstrom, also a member of the negotiating team, confirmed the Nov. 8 proposal made to the board, and indicated that in some areas, the wording of the old contract negatively impacted the ability for the “lane change.” “The understanding was that if you received a Masters, or other course work, you moved into lanes for another pay scale,” she said. “We’re currently bargaining mid-stream, with no contract…both sides are engaging in their due diligence. We both want to finalize this contract and walk away holding up our heads knowing that they accomplished most of their goals.” Lagerstrom said that the need for re-organizing was evident with the recent changes in Teacher’s Retirement System, a state-monitored agency overseeing an “off-the-top” set percentage, from educators’ paychecks, toward their pensions Enacted by the state legislature, the pension code now mandates the TRS to offer all retiring Tier 1 members a onetime irrevocable change in the automatic annual increase to their TRS pensions, as well as an accelerated pension benefit payment. Additionally, the “threshold” for employee contributions on year-to-year salary increases was reduced from 6 percent to 3 percent, should pay increases affect the member’s initial pension. It has been intimated that questions were raised by the teacher’s association as to how contract sticking points, individual pay scale changes through advanced education, and the newly-augmented TRS guidelines would enter into negotiations.

Riley Consolidated District 18 is a union school serving 298 students with a teacher- to-student ratio of 13:1, significantly below the state average of 16:1. “Teachers and staff haven’t been getting the support they deserve,” said Mallegna. “Most of the teachers have been here for twenty years, there is a great rapport between everyone, like family. This situation hurts everyone.”