The Blaine County School District and a group representing its teachers have agreed in principle to an updated contract governing salaries, benefits and working conditions for the 2019-20 school year, wrapping up on Thursday more than 25 hours at the bargaining table.

The terms, which will extend to certified staff, support staff and administrators, must now be ratified by a majority of Blaine County Education Association members, and approved by the school board. Following a series of information sessions, teachers will vote on the deal Thursday, May 23, according to BCEA Co-President Maritt Wolfrom.

“As the demographics of our district shifts, so do our students’ needs and therefore the demands placed on

teachers and all staff,” Wolfrom told the Idaho Mountain Express. “It is always challenging to monetize what we do and demonstrate the value and worth of educators, but both the BCSD and the BCEA were committed to the process.”

The tentative contract would put an additional $990,000 for salary raises—a 2.36 percent raise spread across the district’s 500-plus employees. That money would bolster the existing rungs of the salary schedule, based on education and experience. The district also expects to pay an estimated $825,000 to staff progressing through that schedule next year, according to District Finance Manager Bryan Fletcher.

For 2019-20, the district also agreed to cover a 6.5 percent increase to health insurance premiums and the state-mandated 1 percent contribution increase to its public employee retirement fund, called PERSI, together worth about $401,000. That would be funded by a one-time $441,000 payment from the state compensating the district for past underfunding of the so-called career ladder, Fletcher said.

Next year, that obligation would re-set, leaving teachers to pay the difference, or renegotiate the terms. By Idaho law, salaries and benefits must be bargained annually.

The 2.36 percent raises would be covered by the remainder of those state funds, plus money from a supplemental levy passed in 2018, Fletcher said.

The contract would also limit the maximum amount of experience—and, therefore, starting salary—that new hires could carry onto the district’s salary schedule. And it would provide teachers two half days of uninterrupted prep time prior to the start of the school year.

“I don’t think anything here drastically changes the way we do business,” Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes said of the draft. “It was a very collaborative effort. I think this was a great team. We worked together, and listened to both sides, as well as the community.”

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