By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of two articles regarding a meeting between the Liberal National Educators Association and USD No. 480 to negotiate a list of demands the association has for the upcoming fiscal year. Another article will discuss the district’s response to the list.
Negotiations began Wednesday between the Liberal National Educators Association and USD No. 480 for the district’s next fiscal year.
Brent Goodwin of LNEA said it is the association’s purpose to maintain and strengthen the district’s commitment to excellence in education. Because of this, the first proposal for LNEA was to create higher beginning salary levels.
“To assure the district will attract and retain quality educators in order to provide optimum learning opportunities for our students,” he said. “It’s going to get tougher and tougher to hire good people, and we feel like that’s one of the only ways we’re going to attract those good folks to come out here in western Kansas.”
The next item on deck was a contractual provision which would provide a paid family health insurance policy for each member of the bargaining unit.
“Our rationale is that health insurance benefits are one of the areas that’s of primary concern of the majority of the members of the bargaining unit,” Goodwin said. “These benefits that the district is able to provide will be useful in attracting and retaining quality teachers that we need.”
Goodwin said USD 480’s contribution to the health insurance pool, and the fashion in which it has been done, benefits all educators.
“It benefits teachers, as well as administrators,” he said. “We would expect, at a minimum, the board be willing to keep our out-of-pocket health insurance costs to a minimum.”
The federal No Child Left Behind mandate has created a new source of funding, and when this money becomes available, Goodwin said LNEA would request negotiations be reopened to determine how best this money be spent to improve student achievement.
Extra duty pay was also an item the association would like to address, and Goodwin said this needs to be competitive with the other districts of comparable size in order to attract and retain teaching staff.
“No Child Left Behind creates funds to be used in the implementation of Literacy First as well as other programs,” he said. “LNEA does request that if these new programs create an additional work load for teachers, we wish to establish limits on their work load.”
Goodwin said the association likewise seeks to negotiate the total number of duty days in the district.
“Since USD 480 does have one of the longest school days and school years in the state, this might be possibly a way to save some money without reducing the quality of services to our students,” he said. “Time spent in school does not necessarily correlate with higher test scores.”
Goodwin said teachers have also been concerned about the amount of planning time.
“We need to figure out some way to protect it because they need it,” he said. “If they’re going to implement these new programs, they’ve got to have their planning time, and it cannot be taken away from them.”
Goodwin said the district likewise needs to look at safety needs in schools.
“In order to insure a safe and orderly working and learning environment, it is the intent of the association to negotiate language which guarantees the development of safety procedures and drills for all manner of emergencies in a school setting,” he said. “In addition, the association intends to negotiate the mandatory distribution of such policies to every employee covered by the agreement.”
Goodwin said teachers have also expressed concern about the amount of time out of the classroom due to in-service.
“Literacy First trainings continue to compound this problem,” he said. “In order to better meet the needs of the students, teachers would like to have and need input regarding the types of in-service they received and when it is delivered to them.”