Mill levy passage eases teacher contract talks
SUMMIT COUNTY – Local citizens who cast a yes vote on Measure 3A Tuesday assured ongoing funding for text books, small class sizes and expanded programs. And they greased the wheels for upcoming contract negotiations for local teachers.The Special Building, Maintenance and Technology Fund mill levy, which garnered 63 percent of voters’ support at the polls, will free up about $4 million annually in the school district’s general fund, giving substantially greater leverage to teachers readying to hammer out the details of a three-year contract. District officials estimated they would have had to cut 27 teaching staff, had the mill levy not passed. The Summit County Education Association (SCEA), the local teachers union, postponed contract negotiations during the summer, pending the results of the election.”It’s one thing to walk through the door to negotiations knowing you’re cutting people,” SCEA president Janet McDermott said. “It’s another thing knowing we can look at quality, and that can be the goal.”It’s a huge difference, really. And we’re very thankful the community gave us this opportunity,” McDermott added.”I’m very optimistic now that we have something to talk about and an opportunity to move forward,” said superintendent Millie Hamner. “It would have been very difficult to talk about salary and benefits increases (if Measure 3A had failed.)”Summit teachers’ salaries are slightly below average, relative to state figures compiled by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).In the 2003-2004 school year, Summit School District’s beginning teachers earned $29,800 and an extra $1,000 for their participation in an induction program for new staff. The AFT estimated last year’s average beginning salary in Colorado to be $33,100.”You would like to be in a situation where a young teacher can come in and support a family. That’s the bottom line. We want to retain teachers in the community, and we want to go out in the market and be competitive,” McDermott said. In the coming weeks, the SCEA will select a facilitator to guide the negotiation process. The organization will soon survey its membership to determine its top concerns and priorities.McDermott hopes negotiations will conclude by April 16, when the current contract expires.Both Hamner and McDermott have high expectations for an amicable process. Union members prepared for the negotiations by attending a course in collaborative decision-making at The Keystone Center during the summer.Hamner and the school board will spend part of their Nov. 16 retreat prioritizing topics of discussion for the negotiations.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at email@example.com.
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