The recent teacher contract negotiations between the Blaine County School District (BCSD) and the Blaine County Education Association (BCEA) were described as exceptionally amicable and efficient, said Blaine County Schools Superintendent James Foudy prior to ratification of the 2023-2024 master agreement by the Board of Trustees on May 11.
While last year’s negotiations lasted five days, this year’s only took two and half days.
“Not once during negotiations did one side request a private caucus,” Foudy noted, with the entire process conducted in an open session.
BCEA Co-President Brenda Southwick echoed the sentiment of congeniality, also noting the “consensus framework” first deployed last year, and work done by a negotiating committee throughout the school year.
Because the committee had already identified and worked through many of the key issues beforehand, said Trustee Dan Turner, the process was much quicker and smoother when it came time for the official negotiations. Turner also commended the preparedness of both the BCEA and administrative staff.
With 226 BCEA members representing about 70% of total teachers, 81% of the certified members voted. Of those, 92.9% agreed to ratify the contract.
And with representatives at every school and outreach efforts including a survey, “I really feel like we represent the concerns of the certified staff,” Southwick said.
The negotiations were also helped by additional money from the state, which was allocated following a recommendation by Idaho Gov. Brad Little to raise starting teacher pay across the state to $47,477.
In September, the Idaho legislature approved a $410 million increase in education funding. In March, the state budget writing committee allocated an across-the-board boost of $6,359 in annual pay per teacher—$145 million—though salaries are set by local school districts.
For the 2022-2023 BCSD contract, starting teacher pay in the district was set at an annual salary of $52,000. The year before, it was $45,667.
Under the new 2023-2024 contract, teacher pay will start at $58,013.64.
That increase includes what was the biggest change in the new contract: Certified teachers will now be responsible for paying their entire portion into the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho, known as PERSI. Since 1985, the district had been paying 6.6% of the PERSI contribution on behalf of employees.
The change benefits both the teachers and the district, Foudy said.
“From an expenditure standpoint, it’s neutral for the district,” he said. “On the employee side, the employee’s increased contribution is taken out pre-tax, so it lowers their taxable income. Additionally, an employee’s retirement is based on their highest 42 months of service. By raising their rate of pay, retirement benefits increase.”
Turner pointed to other advantages of the PERSI change: “This strategic move should also have positive implications in the district’s ability to attract and retain the finest teachers in Idaho. Additionally, it will also provide absolute transparency regarding BCSD employee compensation for our community.”
In addition to the infusion of new state funding, teacher salaries were also “backfilled” by the district to offset the change in PERSI contribution.
That benefited the teachers by not reducing their current monthly paycheck, Southwick noted.
“I feel really good about the contract, and I think the process was really good,” she said. “The district found a great solution for a problem that’s existed since 1985. It’s always been kind of a sticking point; this is a great cost-neutral solution. It’s really just a shift.”
For the district, Foudy said, the old PERSI contribution framework was simply not sustainable.
The teacher salary schedule under the newly ratified contract maxes out at $102,086 for a teacher with at least 16 years of teaching experience and master’s degree plus nine additional graduate-level credits. The 2022-2023 salary schedule maxed out at $92,699. In the BCSD, standard teacher contracts are for 185 workdays each school year.
According to the National Education Association, the average starting public school teacher salary in the United States is $42,844, and the average public school teacher salary is $66,745.
In Idaho, the average starting teacher salary is $40,394, ranking 30th in the nation. The average teacher salary overall in Idaho is $54,232, ranking 42nd in the nation.
According to the Idaho State Department of Education, Idaho teacher’s salaries have increased by 18% since 2016.
At $9,046 per pupil per year spending, Idaho ranks 51st in the nation (which includes Washington, D.C.), according to the National Education Association.
Southwick said the financial aspects of the negotiations were the biggest concern on the teachers’ side because of the increased cost of housing and cost of living in the Wood River Valley.
The district is competing to bring in highly qualified teachers from across the state and country, she said, but too often teachers have accepted jobs with BCSD only to then reject the offer because they are unable to find housing. Even with the district’s new rental assistance program, options are limited by the housing stock shortage.
Now, Southwick said, she feels like “the district is in a really good position to attract and retain highly qualified educators.”
BCSD resolves to consider teacher safety concerns
Another significant point of concern among teachers, she said, relates to staff safety.
At the May 9 Board of Trustees meeting, a resolution brought forth for discussion stated that the Board of Trustees “is aware of teacher concerns about effective procedures for handling reports of threatening and disruptive student behavior . . . and has received complaints about the lack of consistent policies and procedures within district buildings and classrooms for handling complaints of student misbehavior that threaten teacher safety and well-being.”
The resolution, if passed, “instructs the district administration to undertake a full review of teacher safety concerns” and to adopt new policies to respond.
After the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, “We are confronting things we haven’t seen before,” Southwick said. “And we are looking for solutions that meet the needs of the students as well as the staff.”
Southwick, who has been teaching in the valley for 24 years, said teachers are facing some of the most challenging behavioral issues she has seen in her career. “It’s a complex issue, and it’s going to take complex solutions.”
And she said it isn’t unique to Blaine County. “It’s something educators everywhere are dealing with.”
“The 2023-24 school year, like any year, will bring with it a host of challenges, some of which are predictable and others yet unknown,” concluded a joint statement released by the BCSD Board of Trustees and the BCEA. “We are better prepared today to face those challenges because of our work together as one district on behalf of each child entrusted to our care.” ￼
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Great stealing more taxes to indoctrinate kids. My kids will never see the inside of a fed school.
Welcome to the discussion.