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Cedar Rapids School district, teachers union begin negotiations

Shortage of substitute teachers a key issue

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 — School administrators and teachers began negotiations this week on a 2015-16 contract they hope to finalize by March or April.

The two sides’ initial “interest statements” — which specify topics of discussion rather than concrete proposals — focus on teacher workload and scheduling changes, among other issues.

Representatives from the Cedar Rapids Community School District and the Cedar Rapids Education Association met briefly Thursday to read their initial statements. The contract will cover all teachers and nurses.

The financial aspects of the contract likely will not be discussed until the state Legislature decides on a funding level for schools, officials said. Gov. Terry Branstad last week proposed a regular-program funding increase of 1.25 percent.

Another key issue, representatives from the district and union said, is a shortage of available substitute teachers in the district.

Jill Cirivello, the district’s executive director of human resources, said the district has an increasing number of total substitutes but has had trouble with them being available when needed.

Cirivello said the district would like to move some professional development time to the in-service days held before school starts, to avoid needing substitutes to cover for teachers’ professional development time during the school year.

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The district also is considering establishing a permanent substitute teacher pool, where substitutes would be guaranteed work every day and spend most of their time in one or two schools, Cirivello said.

Washington High School teacher Pete Clancy, the union’s bargaining team chairman, said a lack of available substitutes can affect regular teachers’ workload, because they end up covering for other teachers themselves.

“The vast majority of (our members) are covering during their prep time at least once a week,” Clancy said, adding that testing students also increases teachers’ workloads. “It seems like things keep getting added on, on top of other things, and nothing ever seems to be let go.”

Clancy said teachers are more stressed now than at any time in his nine-year career.

“Ultimately, who suffers with teacher workload is the students,” he said. “When we have more and more that we have to do as teachers, we have less time that we can give one-on-one to students.”

Other items the sides will discuss in negotiating the new contract include:

l Altering contract language to account for the district’s shift to counting instructional hours, rather than instructional days.

l Improving the efficiency of staffing processes by setting timeliens for turning down a position and charging teachers a fee for breaking their contracts after May 31.

l Addressing behavior issues among students not included in special-education programs, possibly by bringing more mental health professionals into schools.

l Limiting a lump-sum payment option, which allows teachers to collect their paychecks for the summer months all at once, to retirees.

The groups’ next negotiation meeting is scheduled for Feb. 11.

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