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Evansville OKs new contract

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GINA R. HEINE
February 25, 2011
— The Evansville teachers union and school district representatives have a record-setting agreement on a new contract.

A contract negotiation process that normally takes months—in some cases years—was condensed into about 30 hours. Why?


"Because we believe that we can get the concessions that are required in (Gov. Scott Walker's) budget repair bill and preserve our working relationship with staff," District Administrator Heidi Carvin said.


"I think it was in the back of everyone's mind to really take advantage of this window," said Rich Fanning, lead negotiator for the teachers union. "There's a lot of fear about the future. We thought that this was a way that if we could get this through … it would make people feel a lot more relieved."


The contract for the Evansville Education Association, which represents about 158 teachers, expires June 30.


The district had a "productive discussion" when it met with the teachers union Wednesday night for the first of their regularly scheduled negotiation sessions, Carvin said. Both sides met again Thursday afternoon to reach a deal, and the school board unanimously approved the contract Thursday night as a continuation of a meeting they started that morning.


Teachers will vote this morning on ratification of the contract that would begin Tuesday and expire June 30, 2013.


Fanning praised the amicable relationship between the union and administrators.


"We do not have a divisive board versus union here," he said. "We see eye to eye on a lot of things most the time, and I really believe that it's give and take on both sides, and the other side believes that as well. That makes the process go much smoother."


Carvin said the quick timeline of the deal "has a lot to say about the positive working relationship we have with our unions."


Terms of the contract include having teachers contribute 5 percent of their health insurance premium and 5 to 6 percent of their retirement, she said. The salary schedule would be tied to the consumer price index, which officials are assuming would be an increase of around 1 percent, she said.


"It is record time," Carvin said Thursday afternoon. "If all goes well, we're really pleased that we will be able to keep labor peace in our district with all the strife going on around the state."


The union's initial offer was to keep the status quo—no employee contributions to retirement or health insurance, Fanning said, so union negotiators initially were shocked by the district's proposal to contribute to benefits.


The deal means money taken out of teachers' pockets, he said, which means less money will be spent locally.


The district might be laying off one or two teachers but only because of enrollment changes, she said. Kindergarten registration was Thursday night, and open enrollment numbers are pending, so staffing levels will be decided when those key numbers are available.


Earlier Thursday, the school board approved a new two-year contract for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years with the union that represents 41 clerks and educational assistants.


The district and the Evansville Education Association Auxiliary started negotiating a year ago, Carvin said. Union members were working without a contract since July 1.


An arbitration meeting was scheduled for early March, but "we really had hoped to reach an agreement" before then, she said. The union came to the table Tuesday eager to settle, she said, and union members ratified the contract Wednesday.


Terms of the contract are similar to the teachers contract.



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