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Ready for school: District 91 and Idaho Falls Education Association finalize next year’s contract

Representatives from the IFEA and District 91’s administration teams negotiate at the table in this May file photo. | David Pace EastIdahoNews.com
IDAHO FALLS — After months of hard-fought negotiations, teachers in Idaho Falls School District 91 officially have a new 2024-2025 contract. In a work session Tuesday, the district’s Board of Trustees approved the Idaho Falls Education Association’s Monday vote to ratify the master contract.
“It was overwhelmingly a ‘yes’ to approve it,” Idaho Falls Education Association (IFEA) lead negotiator Jake Snarr said of the teacher’s vote. “… I think the big thing that they feel better about is that there is more transparency here and that teachers have more of a voice in some of the decision-making.”
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The contract will boost teachers’ base salary by 1.8%.
The agreement was reached with the assistance of a federal mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services at no cost to either party, said Idaho Falls School District 91 Superintendent Karla LaOrange. The federal government provides this service to assist public entities that need help with negotiations.
Both the district’s and the teachers’ negotiating teams are bound by confidentiality agreements not to discuss the proposals put forward during the process, but the procedure followed was straightforward.
The two teams met in separate rooms and the mediator went between the two groups via Zoom, acting as an intermediary and relaying different proposals. Negotiations started at 10 a.m. on June 18 and lasted 12 hours before both sides reached a tentative agreement.
“I’ve learned that when we have a common goal, that we can come together, and we can we can find a way to come to an agreement, keep moving forward and work together,” LaOrange said. “I think that’s probably the tribute here, that that in the end, we were able to do that, and we’ll continue to be able to do that.”
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The teachers’ association originally voted not to ratify the contract in a May 22 meeting that followed weeks of negotiations. The district originally offered a 0% raise while teachers requested a 5% boost, along with increased transparency and respect from the district.
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In the final contract, both parties agreed to several measures that had not been included in the previous May 22 version.
“There’s a one-time payment of $500 for teachers with 20 years of experience with the district,” LaOrange said. “So that’s our recognition for their working in the district that long.”
They also agreed to establish a committee of six individuals — three chosen by the superintendent and three chosen by the teacher’s association — to “discuss the impact of the reduction of four half-time resource (room) positions,” LaOrange said.
In another memorandum, the district agreed that if it receives additional state funding due to sufficient increases in student enrollment and attendance, it will provide automatic raises to teachers using the revenue coming in.
Currently, school districts receive discretionary funding from the state according to the number of “support units” that they serve. A “support unit” is roughly the size of a classroom and is used by the state to provide funding for teachers, principals, custodians, and paraprofessionals. The number of students that make up a support unit varies by grade.
According to memorandum two, if the district exceeds 475 support units, wages will go up 0.1%. If it exceeds 477 support units, wages will increase 0.2%, or 2% higher base pay than today’s salary scale.
“We didn’t have an increase in salary based on what was attempted to ratify before,” Snarr said. “But because there is willingness from the district to put more in if the district gets more money from the state, I think people feel a lot better about that, because now they don’t feel like the district is trying to hold money and keep money from them that’s earmarked for their salary.”
Snarr said the association’s teachers are not opposed to the district building up its savings fund, as the board of trustees has prioritized, but memorandum two ensures that the district’s teachers are valued as well.
“I think it just really helps people to they can almost swallow the pill of the salary. It’s not the best in the state. It’s pretty comparable to what’s going on around us,” he said. “But now that the district has said, if we get more money, we will distribute it onto the salary, people feel so much better about that.”
The district also will provide all full-time employees a $300 one-time payment or $150 for part-time employees, leadership stipends and increases to coaching stipends for athletics, theater, debate and eSports.
The total cost of the contract package (without benefits) is $4,708,656, according to the district’s Finance Director Lanell Farmer.
“I thought that everyone was very professional as we worked through the negotiations into mediation process,” LaOrange said. “… Moving forward, I am working with the IFEA leadership throughout the summer and anticipate that we’ll move forward in a positive way to help our students learn. That’s the focus too — it’s great adults helping kids reach their potential and have doors open to them.”
Both parties said relations between the teacher’s association and administration have improved since May, but more work remains.
“I just have a lot of confidence in our teachers, and I value them. I am grateful that we continued and worked through difficult things,” LaOrange said. “I think there aren’t a lot of models and examples of people doing that, but we did. We worked through a big challenge and came to a good conclusion.”
Snarr agreed that significant progress has been made.
“I think all parties involved are moving towards mending that relationship, and I think the transparency that the district is willing to provide over the course of this next year is going a long way to build back that trust between the association, the school district and also the taxpayers too,” Snarr said. “I know the taxpayers aren’t typically super involved in a negotiation process, but I think when they know that dollars are being spent wisely, and we have a good accounting of those dollars as the year goes on, then people have more confidence in the school district, and that helps the district’s initiatives going forward, such as levies and bonds.”
At the end of the day, it’s the students that draw both teachers and administrators back to the classrooms, eager to learn more together.
“That’s really what I believe education does is give you opportunity. We want kids to have every opportunity available to them,” LaOrange said. “Change lives. Be the lighthouse.”
The post Ready for school: District 91 and Idaho Falls Education Association finalize next year’s contract appeared first on East Idaho News.
Source: eastidahonews.com

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