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Think About It

| July 25, 2005 12:00 AM

There's no argument here that Montana teachers have been receiving the short end of the stick for some time.

But we can't make up all of the ground in one fell swoop.

Ongoing contract negotiations between the school district and the Libby Education Association is of significant importance to this community. To attract the "best and the brightest" and keep them here in Libby to teach our children we have to compensate them well.

At the same time the Libby School District is not exactly swimming in loose cash.

The district trustees are offering successive years of 5 percent raises. The teacher's union is seeking five percent increases for the next two years and then an eight percent boost for the third year. The LEA is also asking for a sorely needed boost in the district's participation in monthly health insurance premiums.

I don't doubt that district trustees agree that local teachers need more money and better health insurance arrangements. I also know that the trustees are well aware of fiscal uncertainties at this time.

The Legislature still hasn't held its special session that could determine long-term funding for state schools. School districts are continuing to come to grips on what exactly the legislators did during the spring session. And, locally, we're not sure what our student numbers are doing despite the growth being seen in real estate sales and construction.

My suggestion won't be popular but how about if the LEA agrees to the two 5 percent increases being proposed by the trustees while the school board agrees to the $30 per employee monthly health insurance increases sought by the LEA.

As part of the agreement, perhaps a small committee of the LEA negotiation team can work with either Superintendent Kirby Maki or a subcommittee of the school district board to ensure that the district moves in a fiscally sound direction toward the 8 percent pay increase three years from now plus the additional $20 per month for health insurance.

Right now, the school district is just as likely to shoot itself in the foot agreeing to the proposed three-year contract considering the many unknowns facing us, no less all Montana schools.

It would be pruduent to see what the Legislature concocts in its special session at the end of this year before either the teachers' union or the district trustees commit to the proposed third-year increases on the teacher's contract.— Roger Morris