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Earlier this month, as the Vandalia Board of Education and the union representing the district’s teachers reached a contract settlement, it was a win for both sides.
Talks between the two groups had been going on since last spring, and had included one arbitration meeting in September when the two sides couldn’t come up with a compromise that they could live with. A second arbitration meeting had been scheduled, but never was held.
The teachers had been working without a contract since the new fiscal year began July 1.
Without a doubt, the reason for the impasse was the uncertainty about state funding. Those funds have been dwindling in recent years, and all indications are that they will continue to dry up in the coming years.
The three-year pact gives teachers a raise in the second and third years of the contract (1 percent and 2 percent, respectively), while holding pay at current levels during the first year. Furthermore, the contract spells out the district’s option to make reduction-in-force personnel cuts if necessary. It allows the district to honorably dismiss certified employees, based on length of service, and also spells out how those employees will be recalled if the district reverses the RIF cuts.
By inking the agreement, the teachers are guaranteed some modest raises in the second and third years of the agreement. And the district now has a pact that clearly spells out its personnel costs over a three-year period. Such numbers are necessary to prepare annual budgets, since personnel costs (salaries and benefits) make up about 85 percent of the district’s budget.
We applaud both parties for reaching a settlement. Continuing the standoff would only serve to further the chances of disrupting school for the students. Plus, it’s clear that the RIF capability must come into play if the state continues to slash state funding for the district. If the district doesn’t live within its means, its financial situation will invite the state to impose increasingly harsh financial measures on the district.
Right now, the district has a fund balance that is the envy of many districts its size across the state. Those funds – totaling just under $5 million in the four operating accounts over which the district has spending discretion – have been built up over the past five years. They allow the district to weather the dry times without having to borrow funds to make payroll and pay its bills.
Overall, the contract is a good step forward for the district and the teachers. Neither side got all that it wanted, but that’s usually the case in such negotiations.
The next balancing act will be for the district to live within its means while at the same time maintaining a broad range of class offerings. That’s vital as we strive to provide the best education possible for our children.