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Compromise needed while negotiating teacher contract

Communication is key to resolving any conflict, so it’s nice to see the North Harrison Community School Corp. Board of Trustees and Supt. Phil Partenheimer willing to talk with the North Harrison Classroom Teachers Association after months of head-butting.
The glimmer of hope that the two sides might be able to sit down and talk like reasonable adults came at the last school board meeting, held Nov. 8. The issue at hand is reaching a new contract for the teachers, who have been working on the one that expired at the end of the 2003-04 school year.
Since then, negotiations had come to a halt, tempers have flared and respect for one another has all but disappeared.
Both parties have valid points over the main four items in dispute.
Topping the list for negotiation is salary. The teachers believe they deserve a raise, however small, to help them keep pace with cost-of-living increases; the school board, until just recently, has said there was no money to give, as the corporation was in a financial crisis. The other items to be settled are the buyout of the early retirement and severance benefits, whether to use binding arbitration in the future and if there is a better health insurance plan available.
Most businesses have to consider these four items, and while most employers want to give their hard-working, dedicated employees raises, it isn’t always feasible. We are living in an age where too many companies are going out of business, too many people are losing their jobs, health insurance rates are skyrocketing and the cost of necessities are increasing with no end in sight.
Teachers, no matter how important their profession is to our future, are not immune to what is going on in the rest of the world.
To help resolve the impasse, a fact finder was brought in to make an independent, nonbinding recommendation. After a hearing in August, Cynthia Stanley, who listened to both sides plead their case, wrote a nearly 18-page report that detailed her recommendations, which favors the teachers.
At the first pubic meeting between the school board and the teachers since the fact-finder report was returned, cooler heads seemed to prevail and concessions appear to have been made by both sides.
Dan Haskell, a veteran teacher, spoke from the heart without sounding condescending while reiterating the teachers’ position: They are not asking for the moon, but rather for a 1.8-percent increase in their pay.
Dr. Partenheimer said he feels a sense of cooperation on behalf of the teachers and expressed his hopes of healing for the community, which he contends has become divided over the impasse.
Now that the door to communication appears to have opened, if ever so slightly, between both parties, it is time for the school board and the teachers to take advantage of the opportunity. Remember while negotiating that there is another important key to communication: compromise.
Partenheimer said earlier this month that he would like to see the contract dispute settled in the next four weeks. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful Christmas present to all involved.

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