Iowa City school district, teachers union begin negotiations

Work on 2015-16 contract expected to take several months

IOWA CITY — Negotiations began this week between the Iowa City Community School District and the Iowa City Education Association on a 2015-16 contract that is expected to take several months to finalize, officials said Thursday.

Representatives for the two groups said they hope to continue what they called a civil and collaborative relationship. The district and union exchanged their initial proposals for the contract in meetings held Monday.

The union has asked for an increase of 6 percent in a package including salary, pension and benefits, according to its initial proposal. The district’s proposal does not specify how much of a total package increase it suggests for employees.

The district hopes to combine the categories of emergency leave, bereavement leave, personal leave and religious leave into an all-encompassing paid time off group.

Employees now get seven days of emergency, bereavement, personal and religious leave per year and can carry over two personal days from the previous year. Under the language proposed by the district, they would get three days of paid time off per year and could accumulate up to nine days total.

The union, meanwhile, has proposed increases in bereavement leave to 15 total days per year, as well as an addition of one day of professional leave and an option to convert 15 sick days into one personal day if an employee has reached the maximum accumulation for sick days.

Among other requests outlined in the groups’ proposals:

l The union has asked that its president be granted half-time release from teaching duties, meaning he or she would teach part time and work with the district to represent teachers part time. The union will apply for a grant from the National Education Association to cover the costs, said Coy Marquardt, a representative of the Iowa State Education Association, the Iowa City union’s parent group.

l Under the district’s proposal, employees would not be guaranteed a specific space in their assigned building for prep work.

l The district also has proposed increases in the work year from 189 to 191 days for returning employees and from 190 to 192 days for new employees, as well as a decrease from 10 days to five days for winter break.

l Junior high and high school employees would receive only one planning period per day rather than two under the district’s proposal.

Chace Ramey, a spokesman for the district, declined to comment on the substance of the negotiations, citing an agreement between the parties not to talk publicly about them.

“The organizations have a duty to bargain in good faith, and we try to look at it as a collaborative process,” Ramey said. “It’s one that we want to make sure we do right and don’t rush to get done.”

Marquardt agreed.

“We don’t really take an adversarial approach at all,” he said. “It’s very civil, and we have good discussions.”

The groups started the negotiating process early this year in part because they will find out in January whether the district has been awarded a state teacher leadership grant, Marquardt said, adding that the groups have scheduled meetings through March.

The groups are also waiting to see what supplemental state aid levels the state Legislature will set in the spring, said Mitch Gross, an Iowa City teacher and the union’s lead negotiator.

“The good news for us is Iowa City is a growing school district,” Gross said. “A lot of districts would love to be in our position.”

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