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Mediator called in for teacher contract talks

;Class sizes at the heart of dispute

GRANDVIEW - Classroom size is at the core of a divide between the Grandview School District and its teachers union.

Today marked the first day of a new school year for students in the Grandview School District, but teachers and other certificated staff will work under last year's contract until a new deal is brokered with the district.

Superintendent Kevin Chase confirmed this morning that the district and its teachers agreed to seek mediation.

"We've been negotiating since May 10 and we haven't come to a resolution," Chase said. "We have mutually declared an impasse and going to seek the service of a mediator."

Chase said teachers are seeking to reduce class sizes to 25 students per classroom at the secondary level and between 21 to 23 students in the elementary grades.

"The class sizes they're proposing would require us to hire 30 additional teachers at a total cost of almost $4 million," Chase says. "We'd have to purchase portables to put them in."

Jamie Downing is an English teacher at Grandview High School and is the president of the teachers union, the Grandview Education Association. She says the district's current class size guidelines range from a high of 32 students per classroom in high school to 25 in kindergarten.

"Teachers are wanting lower class sizes," Downing says. "The district has not presented anything other than we currently have."

Downing said the district wouldn't necessarily have to hire more teachers to meet the union's request.

She said teachers are seeking more pay for overloaded class sizes and for "overload" pay to start 10 days after the school year starts, not Oct. 15 as is the case under the 2006-07 contract that expires this Friday.

Teachers also want to see contract language that addresses class sizes for special education students. There currently is none, Downing said.

Also at issue are differing views of how much the district should fund increases in health insurance costs and the number of personal days off teachers can have at their disposal during the school year.

Staff also differs with the district on a new evaluation method it has implemented. Downing claims it requires teachers to work beyond the scope of the 7.5-hour work day in their current contract.

The district and certificated staff have even been at odds on how to negotiate a new contract.

Chase says teachers are pushing to eliminate interest-based negotiations, in which both parties iron out a contract together.

Downing counters that it's been a chore just to get to the bargaining table with the district

"It's been really difficult this year," she says. "The district hired a negotiator and is paying him out of district funds. He's negotiating 10 or 11 other contracts around the state and we've been working on his schedule."

When meetings have been arranged, Downing claims the district has often been unprepared to present a proposal.

Chase says the district is always ready to talk.

"We're committed to bargaining in good faith and we do desire a speedy resolution," Chase says. "We're ready to meet and talk at any time. We want to settle this as much as anybody."

He feels mediation is a positive step towards getting back to the table.

"I think it's a good move for both parties to bring in some outside mediation and get some movement," he says.

And that's at least one area where the district and union are in agreement.

"We're definitely committed to mediation," said Downing, noting that teachers will see the school year through until a deal is inked. "We're hoping this will get us to an agreement."

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