Contract negotiations between the Blaine County School District and the Blaine County Education Association were first required by state law to be held in public session in 2011, as shown here. From left are former school board Chair Julie Dahlgren, Wood River Middle School teacher Brian Sturges, Wood River Middle School Principal Fritz Peters and former Wood River High School teacher Michael Walsh. Dahlgren and Peters were representing the School District and Sturges and Walsh were representing the teachers’ union.

     If teachers are granted a pay raise this year, it will be the fifth year in a row that educators in the Blaine County School District have received a salary increase. It’s not just teachers, either, as the district historically has passed on the salary increase percentages to all district employees, including those who represent the district in contract negotiations.

     A decision is not far away, as contract negotiations between the district and its teachers’ union, officially known as the Blaine County Education Association, are scheduled to conclude today. If an agreement is reached, association members will likely vote on the new contract on Monday.

     Ratification of the agreement is listed as an agenda item for the district board of trustees’ monthly meeting scheduled for Tuesday, May 12.

     The district is represented in contract negotiations by board Chairman Shawn Bennion, who serves without pay, and by district employees Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes, Assistant Superintendent John Blackman, Business Manager Mike Chatterton, Alturas Elementary School Principal Brad Henson and Wood River High School Vice Principal Keith Nelson.

     School District officials have stated in the past that having district administrators participate in contract negotiations in which they might ultimately benefit themselves is not a conflict of interest because the final decisions regarding salary increases, for teachers and other district employees, is at the discretion of the board of trustees.

     The education association is represented by teachers Maritt Wolfrom, Erika Greenberg, Scott Slonim, Beth Andrews, Matthew Phillips and Karl Haugan.

     Other items, in addition to salary increases, are typically on the table, including working conditions, vacation, personal leave and sick leave, the district’s “steps and lanes” program and district payments for health insurance.

     The steps and lanes program allows teachers to move up on the salary scale, which is another way to get a pay raise, by increasing their experience or post-graduate education.

     In 2014, contract negotiations led to a 1.25 percent teacher pay increase that was approved by the school board and also passed on to all district employees. The agreement also provided for a one-time .25 percent bonus, payable in December, continuation of the steps and lanes program and an increase in district payments to the district health insurance plan of 7.6 percent.

     The changes to the contract last year added an additional $1.65 million annually to the district’s operational budget.

     There were also salary increases of 1.25 percent in 2013, 1 percent in 2012 and 2 percent in 2011. District employees went without base salary increases in 2009 and 2010.

     District employees also received a one-time 1 percent bonus, payable in December, in 2012.

     Counting only the base salary increases, the average annual teachers’ salary today of $72.329 would have been $68,430 in 2010, and the current average annual administrator salary of $104,273 would have been $98,652 in 2010.

     The salary changes listed above do not take into account other ways of obtaining a salary increase by district employees, such as the steps and lanes program for teachers and an automatic 3 percent salary increase for administrators every other year.


National trends

     The frequent pay increases for teachers and other district employees are not inconsistent with the national norm.

     According to the most current information from the U.S. Social Security Administration, nationwide the average employee salary increase was 2.36 percent in 2010, 3.13 percent in 2011, 3.12 percent in 2012 and 1.28 percent in 2013. The administration shows that employee salaries actually decreased in 2009, during the Great Recession, by 1.51 percent.

     Towers Watson, an international business consulting firm, reported in USA Today last fall that the average employee salary increase in the U.S. was 2.9 percent in 2014 and predicted that the increase would be 3 percent in 2015.

     Towers Watson also noted that the pay increases barely kept employees ahead of inflation, which was at 2.1 percent in 2014.

Email the writer: tsmith@mtexpress.com

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