School district, teachers hit impasse on pay
The DeSoto School District and its teachers' association ended negotiations last week without finalizing a contract for the 2000-2001 school year.
Bill Gilhaus, director of human resources for the school district, said salary negotiations are holding up the contract.
"We've come to an agreement on everything else. The only issue left is salary increase," he said.
Gilhaus would not comment on the terms of the negotiations, but said the two sides were "not that far apart."
The two negotiating teams, led by Gilhaus on the administrative side and Andy Shelly for the teachers' association, met for three hours Friday to settle the contract. When an agreement could not be reached, the two sides decided to solicit help from the state.
"We're at an impasse. The next step is to bring in a mediator," Gilhaus said.
A mediator will be selected from a list provided by the Kansas Human Resource Department. Both sides will have a say in who the mediator will be, Gilhaus explained.
Once selected, the mediator will listen to both sides and try to bring them to a consensus, Gilhaus said. The mediator will separate the two groups and go back and forth between the two, listening to both sides and relaying information. Gilhaus said the mediation process was informal and the mediator does not have the power to make a decision.
"The mediator simply tries to bring the two sides together," he said.
If the mediation is unsuccessful, Gilhaus explained, the two sides would enter a fact-finding stage.
"Fact-finding, unlike mediation, is a formal procedure in which the evidence is presented at a hearing. The fact-finder would make specific findings and recommendations for resolution of each impasse item," Gilhaus said.
Neither side, however, is bound by the fact-finder's recommendation, Gilhaus said.
If a decision still cannot be reached, the state will provide an arbitrator to review the arguments of both sides and render a decision.
"What the arbitrator decides would be binding," Gilhaus said.
If an agreement is not reached by the time school starts in the fall, the teachers will begin the year with a unilateral contract. That means they will begin the school year under last year's contract terms, Gilhaus explained. Kansas law prohibits teachers from going on strike.
Once an agreement is reached, any salary increase would be retroactive to the start of the school year.
Gilhaus said the district had not been through a mediation process in a number of years, and the experience was a new one for current teachers and administrators.
The district filed the paperwork necessary to begin the process, but Gilhaus said there was still a chance the contract could be settled before the mediation begins.
"The mediation will take place 30 to 60 days from now. It is possible that we could meet again and come to an agreement before that time," he said. "It would be in everyone's best interest to settle it as soon as possible."
Shelly said he did not want to comment on the negotiations until an agreement was reached.
"Bill and I agreed that what he said would be sufficient for now. At this point, we're just waiting for the next step," Shelly said.