CPS, CMNEA at ‘impasse’ over contracts

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Brett Stover

Although not always obvious to students, the relationship between Columbia Public School teachers and their employer has been strained during the past few months as the Columbia Missouri National Education Association and CPS have been in contract negotiations.

After a meeting between the two negotiating teams in March, the CPS district personnel decided they would no longer attend the next few scheduled meetings. The district’s team hasn’t attended the three meetings since that date, which CMNEA president Susan McClintic says is a breach of protocol on the part of CPS.
Deputy superintendent Dr. Dana Clippard, who leads the CPS negotiating team, disputes the “ground rules” for negotiations cited by CMNEA.
“After presenting the final offer and answering questions, the district indicated there was no further reason to meet as we had reached impasse,” Dr. Clippard said. “The district’s decision to not continue negotiations in light of this impasse is not the equivalent of failing to comply with the ground rules we agreed upon prior to the start of negotiations for this year.”
The communication between the two sides appears to have devolved, McClintic said Thursday.
“They are going to be putting us off until May 11,” she said. “We are supposed to have it ratified by May 15, but that would be before the board would vote on it, so that has nothing to do with it. Then it means we would have ratified it before sending it to the board.”
Last year, CMNEA and CPS agreed on the collective bargaining agreement that is in place this year. Although the union can attempt to negotiate changes, the contract will be unchanged unless the two parties agree. The two organizations will be forced to approve a replacement agreement in 2017 when the current agreement ends.
“In March the district presented its last, best and final offer after CMNEA made a second counter offer which contained no adjustments in its salary requests,” Clippard said. “The district offered approximately $2.2 million of increased compensation as well as benefits versus the nearly $6.6 million requested by CMNEA.”
At the school board meeting March 9, the board approved teacher salaries for next year. Absent from these is any “un-freezing” of salary steps or any increase in base salary for teachers, CMNEA’s two big proposals. CMNEA membership chair Kathy Steinhoff, HHS teacher and 2011 National Education Association Teacher of the Year, said a small increase in the base salary is justified by inflation.
“We calculated inflation and over that time, it has increased in Columbia by 14 percent,” Steinhoff said. “Teacher salaries in Columbia Missouri have remained not just stagnant, but they are behind. Since inflation went up 14 percent, we felt like it was very fair to ask for a five percent increase and also to restore that last step. The expense for that is not very much.”
She added that in her opinion CPS takes advantage of teachers’ desires to live in Columbia will force them to accept their current salary. Steinhoff said that the 2007-2008 school year was the last time the district increased the base salary for teachers.
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“When you think of it that way, anybody who is employed at that time is actually making less money than a teacher in 2007-2008 made with the same amount of experience and education,” Steinhoff said. “Even though in the public, a lot of people say you get a raise because every time you get a year of experience you move up, but it is the fact that level of teacher in 2015 is not making as much money as that level of teacher in 2007.”
Beyond the big-ticket budget items, Steinhoff said CMNEA also proposed a few less noticeable changes to teacher contracts, including an alteration of personal day procedures and, especially, autonomy for teachers during their planning time.
“We were trying to advocate for teachers to have secured planning time that they could really use for their own classrooms,” Steinhoff said. “We wanted some input on the calendar year, and it kind of gets back to planning time. We are trusted as professionals. Why can’t we be trusted to know how to spend our time in order to help kids and to improve achievement?”
While it appears unlikely that any significant changes will be made to the current agreement, the union is still hopeful for progress on a deal.
Clippard, who cited monetary concerns as the major obstacle to the CMNEA proposal, made sure to emphasize that the district values teachers, calling them the “backbone” of Columbia Public Schools.
“Just as teachers work to create quality learning environments for students, the district works to create quality working environments for all its employees while it lives responsibly within the limits of its budget,” Clippard said. “We believe the district’s offer achieves this, and we look forward to working with and for teachers in the days to come.”
By Brett Stover