Education

Cedar Rapids School District backs down from contract proposal amid teacher outcry

C.R. school board approves contract that includes more than just wages

The Educational Leadership and Support Center for the Cedar Rapids Community School District at 2500 Edgewood Road NW. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Educational Leadership and Support Center for the Cedar Rapids Community School District at 2500 Edgewood Road NW. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Community School District has backed down from a proposal that many teachers feared would have removed all but base wages from their contracts.

The Cedar Rapids school board Monday approved a contract agreement between the district and its teachers’ union that maintained many of the permissible items that an initial proposal from Superintendent Brad Buck would have had removed and relegated to a district handbook.

“I was not pleased with the process,” board member Gary Anhalt said Monday. “I think that we could have been better to, the whole process could have been served better, if we would have stayed closer to our original contracts with those groups.”

Buck’s initial proposal spurred dozens of teachers and their supporters to attend several school board meetings over the past few months, with many longtime teachers opposing the changes. Moving all permissible items into a handbook would have prevented unions from bargaining over working conditions.

No teachers addressed the board Monday. In an interview with The Gazette, Hiawatha Elementary teacher Ann Heubner said she was unable to attend but was grateful to the district.

During a February board meeting, Heubner asked that teachers and other staff members be treated “with dignity.”

“I intended to go and thank them for bargaining with us,” said Heubner, an 18-year veteran of the district. “ … I think the teachers were effective in letting the district and community know (about this), and getting people behind us, and getting the school board behind us, by speaking out in the way that we did.”

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School board member Jennifer Borcherding said she was unhappy with the district’s initial proposal.

“I hope, moving forward, that we will start in a different place when we’re looking at contracts again,” she said.

Board President John Laverty said the “administration did exactly what we needed them to do,” regardless of its starting point.

“It was not easy for anyone in this process, and we’re seeing that across the state,” Laverty said. “We’re seeing it in higher education, and unfortunately it has more to do with scarce resources for teaching kids and the future of our state than it does about the staff.”

In an interview, Buck said the district’s position on permissive items “was felt differently than we intended” throughout the bargaining process.

“We wanted to talk about all the permissives, and in order to talk about all the permissives, we had to say up front that our stance was to take them all out — recognizing that we believed it was likely permissives would remain in the contract as it unfolded,” Buck said, noting the district’s process had to change because of legislative changes last year. “ ... I pretty strongly say that we were talking about including permissives from the opening night in negotiations with the groups.”

Some items now are legally required to be removed from contracts, Buck said, and two additional items — sick days and salary increases for staff continuing their professional education — were negotiated out and will be placed in a district handbook.

“I think we all learned things through this process, and I’m optimistic about all the great work that’s ahead of us and the relationships we share,” Buck said. “We learned through this and we learned from this. Even though we believe we communicated it in a way that was clear, the way people experienced it wasn’t as we intended, and that’s really too bad. I don’t want staff to feel that way.”

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The board unanimously approved contract agreements with teachers, and approved contracts with board member Rafael Jacobo abstaining for secretaries, custodians and carpenters. Teachers are scheduled to receive 1 percent wage increases, and paraprofessionals will receive 1.5 percent increases. Secretaries and custodians will receive 10 cents more per hour, and carpenters will receive 32 cents more per hour.

Many union members were relieved to “maintain a decent contract,” said Kim Miller, director of the local chapter of the Iowa State Education Association. Like Heubner, he credited public pushback against the district’s initial proposal for changing the district’s course.

The community’s engagement “enabled us to retain a contract with permissives intact,” Miller said. “Which was really what this was about: to maintain a pretty decent contract. We’ve had a decent contract for a number of years, and we wanted to make sure it didn’t get eroded further by actions the Legislature took back in February 2017.”

Republicans in control of the Iowa Legislature and governor’s office made sweeping changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining law for public employees last year, including requiring districts to negotiate only over base wages. Other workplace matters can be negotiated, but no longer are required to be.

The Iowa State Education Association and many union workers opposed the changes in demonstrations and a lawsuit, which failed to stop the law.

Since the legislative change, the Iowa Association of School Boards has tracked trends in school boards’ labor relations. According to the group, 170 school districts have settled contracts since collective bargaining changes became law.

Of those districts, 41 have removed all permissive items from their master contracts. Another 101 districts have included at least one permissive item, and 28 districts have included every permissive topic of bargaining in their contracts.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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