As bargaining sessions continue between the Aberdeen School District and teachers in the Aberdeen Education Association (AEA), the district has posted portions of the AEA’s contract proposal online, which includes a suggested 35 percent raise for all licensed teachers.
Aberdeen Superintendent Alicia Henderson told The Daily World that the district still feels its original offer of a 15 percent raise is fair, and that she doesn’t think a 35 percent increase in pay is really feasible.
“Thirty-five percent, I honestly don’t even know how that would be accomplished,” said Henderson.
With certificated teachers already under contract for the upcoming year, Henderson said she would rather not lay off classified staff to allow for a much higher raise.
“For classified, I would hate to think we would have to do any layoffs of any of our classified staff in order to make that kind of increase to teachers’ salaries,” said Henderson. “I just can’t imagine that there would be support for that from anyone.”
However, AEA President Michelle Reed wrote in an email to The Daily World that the 35 percent is only a starting point for negotiations — not a final offer.
“Our proposal was merely a starting point — that’s why this process is called ‘negotiations,’” said Reed. “Unfortunately, Superintendent Henderson doesn’t have a lot of experience with negotiating contracts.”
Over the past couple of months, district officials and the AEA have been in contract negotiations, as teachers want a serious pay raise. The state will adopt a new funding model in 2019 that’s intended to completely fund basic education in public schools with state money, and almost $5 million in additional funding is coming to Aberdeen starting in January.
A couple of weeks ago, the district began posting documents and notes from the bargaining sessions online, a decision which Henderson said was made to increase transparency.
But Reed said she thinks the district posts the information because the district is more interested in bargaining in public than in formal meetings.
“Superintendent Henderson and her administration are trying to negotiate in the media instead of working to get a deal done at the bargaining table,” said Reed. “The district administration, led by Superintendent Henderson, is trying to make teachers look bad instead of bargaining a fair contract in good faith. That’s alarming and demonstrates a complete lack of respect for Aberdeen teachers.”
In Wednesday’s meeting, the district provided a cost analysis of the AEA’s proposal on the Aberdeen School District website, in the “Collective Bargaining” section under “Meetings and Proposals.” This proposal includes the 35 percent salary increase to all licensed teachers, along with other requests for benefits. There are non-cost items from the proposal that the district did not post online.
In the proposal from the AEA, there are also requests such as allowing teachers to request a risk assessment if students are demonstrating “threatening or harassing behaviors,” more personal leave days and the ability to limit the number “English learners” in normal classrooms.
The district analyzed each request’s costs, and reported that all the non-salary requests had a total cost of $1,881,400. Along with the salary increase, the district reported that the total increased cost would be more than $7 million.
Henderson said this Wednesday’s meeting ended with district officials saying they still think the 15 percent raise is fair, an amount that she said was requested by the AEA at an earlier meeting in May.
“The first time we met, they asked for 15 percent,” said Henderson, adding that this was part of why the district chose to offer a 15 percent raise at the July 30 meeting.
Reed said the AEA never proposed this low an amount.
“The administrator who said that is either confused or lying,” said Reed. “AEA never proposed 15 percent – we started higher than that. This shows that Superintendent Henderson’s administration is spreading false information, which is a distraction from getting a settlement that focuses on what students need – great teachers.”
While the AEA still wants a higher salary increase, district officials say it was challenging just to offer their 15-percent proposal.
Henderson said the district took out a $1 million loan to pay for the costs of transitioning the district’s sixth-grade students to Miller Junior High School so they could offer the 15 percent teacher salary increase.
“We dug deep and incorporated some funds that had been planned for the Miller sixth grade,” said Henderson. “Instead of utilizing those funds for that, we’re putting it toward the teacher salary.”
Reed responded, saying she thinks it was “mishandled finances” by Henderson that led to the district requring a loan.
“That’s the superintendent’s decision to make, but the idea that she’s mishandled finances should come as no surprise,” said Reed. “Again, blaming teachers for the administration’s budget decisions shows a tremendous lack of leadership on the part of Superintendent Henderson and her cabinet.”
Back in June, the AEA authorized a strike, meaning the AEA bargaining team can call for a strike if it wants to. After calling for a strike, the AEA’s members would need to vote again to confirm it.
Going forward, Reed said the AEA doesn’t want to strike, that they’re “prepared to do what it takes to win a fair contract.”
“It is beginning to feel like bad-faith bargaining on the part of the district administration and very much as though they are attempting to force a strike,” said Reed. “It’s unfortunate they’ve taken that approach.”
Town hall Monday
The Aberdeen School Board is hosting a town hall meeting in the Commons for Aberdeen High School this upcoming Monday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
The school board and Henderson will field questions and concerns from the public at this meeting less than two weeks from the start of the school year.
“In particular, the board would like to support the current collective bargaining process through open lines of communication outside of the formal meeting process that allows board members to more fully participate in the discussion,” the district wrote in a press release.
Update — town hall postponed in response to teacher rally
The Aberdeen School Board decided to postpone the town hall meeting in response to a planned teacher rally scheduled for the same time.