Catlin teachers' union chief 'frustrated' with negotiations

CATLIN — The president and chief negotiator for the 44-member teachers' union told school officials this week that she was "frustrated" and "disappointed" with the contract-negotiation process so far.

Lezlie Holman said that representatives from the Catlin Faculty Organization and the Catlin school board had met three times since July to discuss a new teachers' contract but had not met in the past month. The previous one-year contract expired on June 30.

Holman said teachers' salaries in the Catlin district were — on average — the third-lowest among 12 school districts in Vermilion County. She said salaries need to be more competitive in order to attract and retain quality teachers. She said that over the past two years, there has been a 35 percent turnover in certified teachers at Catlin High School, mostly among teachers with between four and 10 years' experience with the district.

"New teachers cut their teeth with us, and then leave," Holman said.

She used a chart to compare teachers' salaries in Catlin and in Bismarck-Henning, two county districts that she said have similar per-pupil expenditures.

According to Holman, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and five years' experience earns $33,561 in the Catlin district and $33,516 in the Bismarck district. But a teacher with a bachelor's degree and 10 years' experience makes $36,158 in Catlin and $38,383 in Bismarck.

Also, according to Holman, a teacher with a master's degree and five years' experience makes $36,601 in Catlin and $38,855 in Bismarck. But a teacher with a master's degree and 10 years' experience makes $38,658 in Catlin district and $44,499 in Bismarck.

"Our current salary schedule promotes having the least-educated, least-experienced teachers in front of our students every day," Holman said.

Instead of simply increasing the base salary, she said, she wants to see the whole salary schedule overhauled, so that it is more fair to the teachers. She said she is willing to see a new schedule implemented incrementally over the next few years to replace the current "ailing" one and said she is frustrated that the school board's attorney won't discuss a new schedule, and won't move from the board's initial stance of implementing a "soft freeze," which would keep the current salary schedule and the base pay at its current level.

School board president Jeff Fauver said he hopes to see movement between at the Sept. 20 negotiations.

Superintendent Gary Lewis said this will be the third contract he has helped to negotiate with the Catlin Faculty Organization. He said that this set of negotiations has started slowly, but he feels it is moving forward.

While it is still his goal to negotiate a multi-year deal, Lewis said the talks may yield only a one-year contract.

Lewis said the "soft freeze" offered by the board would not overhaul the salary structure and would not increase the base pay, but would provide raises based on teachers' longevity with the district — an average of a 1.35 percent salary increase for each teacher.

Lewis said he agrees that the current salary schedule "is not very consistent, vertically or horizontally," and he said overhauling it seems to be a goal of the union negotiators.

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