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Contract dispute at S.H. nears conclusion after fact-finding

Negotiations between the teachers of South Harrison Community School Corp. and their school board appear to be closer than ever to a resolution following a report issued by an Indiana Education Employment Relations Board appointed fact-finder.
The report by Janet L. Land, an attorney from Carmel, was released to the public on April 22. Negotiations initially began Aug. 20, 2003.
Teachers of the South Harrison Education Association voted overwhelmingly to endorse the fact-finder’s recommendations for contract years 2003-2004 through 2004-2005.
The 2003-2004 recommendation is for $170,000 towards insurance costs and a 1.5-percent salary increase.
The 2004-2005 recommendation also includes $170,000 towards insurance costs and a 2.1-percent salary increase, the state average as of Dec. 15, 2004.
A written response by the school corporation concerning the fact-finder’s report, said the fact-finder’s recommendation reflected what the board had offered to SHEA prior to the fact-finding hearing.
The only exception, the response said, was replacing the offered 1/2-percent stipend with a flat dollar amount.
The response, however, said the board would not extend the contract for the 2005-2006 period as recommended by the fact-finder. Among reasons given for the decision was that the Indiana Legislature had not yet passed a budget for 2005-2006.
Historically, it is uncommon for fact-finders to issue recommendations concerning years not under dispute.
Professional negotiators are currently working toward an agreement for 2003-2004 through 2004-2005.
The fact-finding report contains background on the corporation and an outline of bargaining history. Information delivered by both parties at the hearing is included, followed by the fact-finder’s observations.
The verbal agreement reached between the board and SHEA President Evelyn Bell on Sept. 30 could be construed by the National Labor Relations Board as an unfair labor practice in the private sector, Land said.
The board asserted the fact-finder referred to SHEA’s ‘reneging’ on the verbal agreement. Bell recanted after being advised to hold out for more than the one-percent raise proposed at that time. However, the fact-finder’s report only refers to the agreement, not specifically to SHEA’s withdrawal.
The report criticized both parties for not turning to professional negotiators earlier in the process, and suggested that SHEA should have sent ‘malcontents’ to the bargaining table after a ratification vote came up short.
‘The lack of professional negotiators during several months of bargaining was a mistake,’ Land said.
‘Those years of experience cannot be replaced with local bargaining teams who seem to be making poor decisions,’ she said.
Before offering her recommendation, Land wrote, ‘Considering how bargaining has progressed, this fact-finder was loathe to recommend more than the 1.5 percent and the dollars generated from a .5-percent stipend offered by the corporation in the June 2004 effort to reach a settlement. However, she had to be somewhat realistic and find a compromise.’
Land said some expenditures approved by the board and criticized by SHEA were too trivial to merit discussion, and some, such as capital projects fund dollars and riverboat revenue allocated for debt service reduction, were not available for bargaining.
The corporation’s 1/2-percent stipend offer was deemed unacceptable on the same grounds it was rejected by the SHEA, the stipend has no compounding effect and impacts on retirement earnings.
Full payment of insurance premiums for school members and administrators was also determined a ‘minuscule’ amount of money as compared with the cost for certified and non-certified employees.
Salary increases, another source of SHEA criticism, were the same for non-certified employees as offered to teachers during mediation, and the superintendent’s salary increase is the same as that of the teachers, Land’s report said.