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Teachers Consider Walkout Union Demands Contract In Bonner County Schools

Bonner County teachers don’t want to start another school year without a new contract and may stage a walkout if they don’t get one.

“That is surely one of the options being talked about,” said Joan Head, Bonner County Education Association president. “Teachers want to provide excellence in education and without a new contract they would be in despair.”

The district’s teachers have worked nearly two years without an agreement. The last contract was hammered out for the 1995-96 school year.

A meeting for all Bonner County School District employees is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at First Baptist Church. Concerns about a contract and how the district is being run will be presented, Head said. She also expects a vote on whether to walk out when school starts if the administration doesn’t agree to sit down and come to an agreement.

“We all know there is no money. That is not the major issue,” said Enid Trenholm, incoming union president. “We just want a contract.”

Last spring, district administrators hired a two-person negotiating team from Seattle for $14,500. Since the team has been in place, Head said there has been no progress on a contract.

“Our main concern is we are dealing with people that fly in from Washington and know nothing about this county. We would like the (school) board to come to the table and get us a contract we can ratify right away,” Head said. “We believe that can happen within 48 hours.”

Teachers are supposed to report to school Thursday with students arriving after Labor Day.

Superintendent Max Harrell was at a meeting and unavailable for comment Monday. District administrator Ed Sansom said he was aware teachers might go on strike. He was under the impression teachers and the hired negotiators were moving ahead and looking at where money would come from to give teachers a raise.

A walkout now would fly in the face of the current agreement, he said. “We would see it as a violation of (negotiating) in good faith.”

Sansom wants to avoid any kind of protest and said the school board surely would consider the offer to meet with union members.

“If that in fact is what the union’s real message is, I think the board would have to look at that. We all want to get started on a positive note.”

The union has expressed other concerns. School principals reported to work last week but three principals still have not been hired. Sandpoint Middle School, Clark Fork and Priest Lake currently have no administrators in the building. Sandpoint Middle School also has no vice principal named.

“The secretaries have been in for one week at the middle school with no principal, no vice principal and not one call from the central office directors to see how things are going,” Head said.

Teachers and parents also complained last week when the district announced it would release students an hour early on Wednesdays this year.

Fifteen minutes is being added to the other days to make up for the time lost. The early release would allow teachers and schools to plan, work on curriculum and staff development.

It’s an idea teachers support, but Head said the plan should have been discussed more with parents and announced sooner so parents could arrange day care.

The early release program doesn’t go into effect until the third week of school, Sansom said. That gives schools and parents time to plan and arrange schedules. It also was an idea adopted by the school board in December but never implemented, he said. Instead, time was added to school days last year so students could make up days they missed due to bad weather.

Union members took a vote of no confidence in Harrell last spring, partly because of poor communication with teachers and how district money was being spent.

“The communication is still not there and we haven’t gained any level of trust (in the administration). It continues to fester,” Head said. , DataTimes

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