CEDAR RAPIDS — Contract negotiations for Iowa teachers this year are taking longer and resulting in lower total package increases than usual, according to the state teachers union president.
That’s because of uncertainty about how much state funding schools will receive, Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association, said Friday.
Contracts for the 2015-16 school year that already have been agreed upon include lower-than-usual increases in the total package teachers receive, Wawro said. That includes salary, health insurance, retirement benefits and professional development, among other things.
The state union has gotten reports of 131 settled contracts statewide, Wawro said. Negotiations in many districts started early this year.
“That’s lower than usual” for this time of year, Wawro said. “And the amount of increase is lower than usual.”
Legislators have spent the last few months debating how much to increase state supplemental aid — a major school funding category — for the next fiscal year. Low funding increases and uncertainty about the Legislature’s decision mean schools are looking more closely at staffing levels, district officials said.
The average total package increase this year among the settled contracts is 3.45 percent, down from a typical 4 percent annual increase, Wawro said.
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Teacher salaries often increase by only 1.25 percent, she said, because additional professional development days or increased insurance costs can cut into that money.
Corridor districts that have finalized their contracts roughly match the average increase.
Teachers in the Marion Independent School District will receive a total package increase of 3.45 percent next year, Superintendent Sarah Pinion said. And the total package for College Community School District teachers will increase by 3.25 percent, human resources director Jamie Coquyt said.
The College Community district has frozen hiring despite an increase in enrollment for next year, Coquyt said.
“There are a few positions that may not be filled through attrition,” he said. “(We’re) just trying to be fiscally responsible that way until finances are a little clearer from the state.”
Pinion said Marion administrators also have considered not filling empty positions.
Negotiations in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City districts are ongoing but could finish within the next week or two, representatives there said.
The Linn-Mar and Solon districts are in the second year of two-year teacher contracts and did not have negotiations this year. Clear Creek Amana Superintendent Tim Kuehl could not be reached for comment.
For unions, accepting a lower total package increase in exchange for hiring more teachers or not eliminating positions sometimes is an option, Wawro said. But in larger districts, she added, hiring a limited number of additional teachers wouldn’t reduce class sizes enough to be cost-effective.
Lower package increases can lead to more turnover among teachers, Wawro said.
“The number one impact on the student is the quality of the teacher,” she said.