By Mark Rountree
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Contract negotiations between Stillwater Public Schools, teachers and support staff personnel have not always gone well.
As recently as four years ago, contract talks derailed into impasse as negotiating teams could not come to terms.
But due to a new negotiating strategy implemented by former Assistant Superintendent Jim Ryan, one that stressed unity and compromise, those days appear to be over.
Negotiators for the teachers and support staff needed only two meetings this summer with the school district’s chief negotiator to hammer out an agreement on the 2013-14 contracts.
On Friday, the contracts were put up for a vote, and union members overwhelming approved the packages.
Members of the Stillwater Education Association voted 77 to 1 in favor of a 2013-14 contract package that includes a 0.5 percent pay raise plus annual step salary adjustments, making it a 1.8 percent pay increase. Combined with last year’s pay hike, teacher’s salaries have increased 5.1 percent in the past two years.
This year’s pay increase will cost the district $357,000 and be paid out of the general fund.
Members also approved an attendance incentive package that would include stipend dollars for not using sick or personal days each semester. For example, a teacher could earn $200 for not taking any sick or personal days. A teacher who used only one sick or personal day would receive $150.
Members of the Stillwater Education Support Personnel Association voted 172 to 16 in favor of a package that includes a 0.75 percent pay increase plus annual step salary adjustments for an overall average of a 2 percent salary increase.
The total cost of the support staff’s pay increase will be $134,200, including $84,000 for the step adjustment and $50,200 for the 0.75 percent salary increase. The pay adjustments will be paid out of the general fund.
Union members also approved an attendance incentive plan. After accumulating 40 days of sick leave, support employees will receive a $40 stipend for each unused sick leave day.
“What I am really proud of is the collaborative negotiation process that we now do in Stillwater,” Superintendent Ann Caine said. “We started that three or four years ago. Jim Ryan changed the process. It was after we had been to impasse, and we knew there was a better way to negotiate. And so in talking to the negotiation team members, they said this was a very collaborative, positive experience this summer.”
Janice Cox, president of the teacher’s union, said negotiations went well because each side was willing to compromise.
“We had excellent conversations,” Cox said. “I think it was a good compromise that we were able to come up with. We (have) tight budgets, tight budgets for teachers, and tight budgets for administration too.”
Cox said the teacher’s union would like to see state legislators recognize and do something about the discrepancy in salaries in Oklahoma and surrounding states.
“I think we got a good deal out of this,” said Gale Henry, president of the support staff union.
“The (district) gave us what was available, and they worked with us very well.”
District officials say negotiations work best when trust is established on all sides.
“My goal in this role as chief negotiator for Stillwater schools is to build that relationship with each of these negotiating groups so that we can work together,” said Kellee Brown, director of human resources for the district.
“So when we have money to share, we will do that. But when we don’t, they can trust me when I say we don’t.”
The Stillwater Board of Education will meet at 8 a.m. Monday in the Administration Building, 317 S. Lewis, to vote on the ratified contracts.