Teachers, secretaries change contracts to help IRSD

More than 900 IRSD staff impacted

Date Published: 
Friday, May 12, 2017

Some Indian River School District staff won’t make as much money this year as they were originally entitled to. They’ve reduced their next three years of raises to help the district deal with budget shortfalls and impending state budget cuts.

The teachers and secretaries in Indian River Education Association (IREA) agreed this week to spread next year’s pay raise over the next few years.

The compromise was needed to meet the district’s financial goal of rebuilding a reserve fund and also compensate staff for losing the raises they were initially promised at contract negotiations several years ago.

“The teachers and the secretaries said overwhelmingly, ‘We’re going to help the district out,’” said IREA President J.R. Emanuele. “We’re going to spread it out, we’re going to take less money over the years” and help the district financially, “and, hopefully, be able to protect people’s jobs in the process.”

The new contract agreements will affect approximately 840 teachers and 74 secretaries.

“We are pleased that our teachers and secretaries have approved the renegotiated contract agreements. The cost savings from these measures will be of great assistance as we attempt to offset the State of Delaware’s proposed budget cuts in education,” stated Superintendent Mark Steele.

“We thank the Indian River Education Association for its cooperation during these difficult financial times. We sincerely appreciate the members’ willingness to reopen negotiations and to work with the administration to address the anticipated budget shortfalls in Fiscal Year 2018.”

Instead of expecting a 5 percent raise this year, staff will receive 1 percent, then 2 percent, then 3 percent, each year through the 2020 fiscal year.

“I think it was big of the teachers and secretaries to step up and do that.” Emanuele said. “It’s a big deal for people to look and say, ‘I can have this money in my pocket right now, or am I willing to sacrifice and know it’s going to take a lot more years to catch back up?’”

For example, a five-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree, plus 15 additional credits in continued education, would be paid $900 less in the next three years than they would have been under the previous contract terms. A 20-year teacher with a master’s degree and 30 credits would be paid about $1,400 less.

But the employees got some perks in return, many regarding time input, which should make their lives easier.

“In lieu of that money, not being made financially whole after those few years, the district offered some contract language,” Emanuele said.

The union secured language about where to place non-student workdays on the calendar; extra time for IEP caseloads; what type of lesson plans need to be used by teachers; when doctor’s notes are required; staff meetings; parent conference scheduling; casual dress days; and more.

It’s not perfect, and not everyone benefits form the changes. For example, secretaries don’t have parent-teacher conferences.

But anyone retiring in the next couple years will be made financially whole, Emanuele said.

After the governor’s proposed budget included education funding cuts, the IRSD began scrambling to balance the potential $3.5 million loss. The IRSD approached the union to consider reopening contract negotiations. Teachers and secretaries agreed before Easter. The board and union approved the changes this month.

Union members were able to vote at any of eight meetings and locations over the past few weeks. Secretaries ratified the changes 21-1. Teachers ratified the changes 211-94.

Between contract changes and the union’s help lobbying for the recently passed referendum, “We’re hoping all the effort we put in and sacrifices we made — we’re hoping the district can save people’s jobs,” Emanuele said.

“If they didn’t accept it, there could be huge cuts,” Emanuele said. “There still could be.”

Custodians opted not to renegotiate contracts.

IRSD staff are not required to join the union. But the IREA still represents and protects all staff, such as in contract negotiations or discipline issues. The 829 IREA members include 653 who are teachers and other professionals, 100 paraprofessionals, 42 custodians and 34 secretaries.

Existing paraprofessional contracts are already scheduled to end this summer, and there is fear that many will lose their jobs.

Because of the way special education, in particular, is changing, unit-wise, the board approved Superintendent Mark Steele’s concept to not over-hire staff before enrollment projections are complete (which results in more local money being spent).

He has also suggested programmatic changes, which requires more teachers. That means replacing paras with teachers, at a rate of two-to-one, which would reduce the overall manpower of schools.

“That was the discussion we had last night with the board. They were looking at numbers and names and things like that,” Steele said on May 9.

Until then, Director of Personnel Celeste Bunting will be visiting schools to better explain the situation to staff.

The board will continue discussions on May 22 at 7 p.m. at Sussex Central High School.

“Right now, the board is really looking at everything with a fine-tooth comb and a magnifying glass,” Steele said.

The May 8 meeting included some back-and-forth dialogue between school board members and educators in the audience. That is very rare, as board meetings include time for comments but not necessarily discussion.

Steele said he enjoyed the dialogue, because he’s advocated for transparency in his new administration. It allowed people to ask board members to explain the challenges of the governor or legislators cutting budgets.

But, at the same time, members of the public — including retired attorney Jim Reichert — have argued that the school board is violating Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws by discussing the budget and job positions in executive session.

But Board President Charles Bireley said their attorney has given the OK to continue as such.

For instance, the board discussed, but didn’t decide on, potential changes to the Spanish immersion program and school resource officers (local police officers working inside the schools).

But looking at individuals’ names helps the board visualize the impact of their decisions, Steele suggested.

“Because they were looking at names and jobs and positions and wanted to know,” Steele said. “They were looking at a list of paras … Sometimes people can’t grasp the concept until they see actual names and numbers.”

If their contracts won’t continue for the 2017-2018 school year, teachers must be notified by May 15, para-educators by July 1.

Some teachers have already been told not to expect a job next year, including some temporary hires. Additionally, early-learning program Project Village will be scaled back from five locations to just the Selbyville location, which can be funded with State money. The other locations were mostly funded with local money.