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Teachers, district at odds

| July 25, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

Libby Education Association is seeking a three-year contract for teachers that includes 5 percent salary raises in each of the first two years and an 8 percent raise the third year. That would be in addition to increases in Libby School District's contribution to teachers' monthly health benefit package.

Superintendent Kirby Maki updated trustees on negotiations during Tuesday's school board meeting.

The next bargaining session between LEA and the school district is scheduled Thursday, July 28, at 7 p.m. in the district administration building. It is open to the public.

Maki said the district has offered 5 percent raises for 2005-2006 and 2006-2007, but LEA declined to accept.

"They were not satisfied with that," Maki said.

He noted that teachers will work under the existing contract if a new pact is not approved by both sides before the new school year begins.

The superintendent said it's dangerous to commit to long-term contracts with significant boosts in salary because the district doesn't know from year to year how much money it will receive from the state.

Unexpected declines in enrollment in the district would reduce state per-pupil funding, possibly throwing budgets out of whack, he said.

"It could put us back in the cut mode," he said, referring to possible reduction of staff or programs.

Kootenai Valley Christian School's decision to begin offering classes in grades nine through 12 this fall could have at least a small impact on district enrollment. The school has been registering high school students with a July 25 deadline.

KVCS board member Myresa Boulware said fewer than 10 high school students are expected to begin classes in September. Although the school doesn't have specific enrollment goals, she said school officials anticipate that more students will attend the private school's high school classes in coming years.

Maki said LEA also 'is requesting the district to boost its contribution toward health insurance costs by $30 per employee each month during the first two contract years. The union's request for the third year is for a $50-per-teacher increase, putting the district's monthly cost at $445 per employee, Maki said.

The health insurance increases that LEA is asking for would cost an additional $100,000 in the proposed contract's third year, he said.

The superintendent said the district made an opening offer of 4 percent raises for two years. Later, it agreed to the 5 percent salary jump LEA wanted but the recent request for a three-year contract blocked the deal.

"We'll see what happens on the 28th," Maki said, referring to the next bargaining session.

LEA representative Tim Hodel was unavailable for comment on contract negotiations.”

Meanwhile, the school board approved new contracts for three school district classified employment groups.

Both the Libby Association of Educational Assistants and the Libby Association of Educational Office Personnel received raises of 60 cents an hour for 2005-2006 and 2006-2007. Monthly health benefit contributions by the district were increased $30 per month for employees in each of those groups. The health insurance benefits are paid for 11 months each year.

Employees of the Libby Lunch Bunch Association received a 50-cent-per-hour increase for each of the next two years, plus a $10 health insurance contribution each month. Health benefits for full-time LLBA employees, which total $365 each month under the new contract, are paid over nine months. Rates paid to part-time workers are pro-rated.