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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Coeur d’Alene teachers get better contract offer

The Coeur d’Alene School District gave teachers a new contract offer Monday that still would reduce health insurance benefits but is far less drastic than the cuts proposed two months ago.

The new proposal seeks $920,000 in teacher concessions as the district seeks to close a $1.5 million budget shortfall for the coming year.

In the previous offer, when the district faced a projected shortfall of about $3 million, the proposed cuts in health benefits would have saved $2.6 million, $800,000 of which would have been placed in health savings accounts for employees.

Two new school board members elected in May have stepped up to the bargaining table, and negotiations have taken on a refreshing new tone, said Tim Sandford, chief negotiator for the Coeur d’Alene Education Association.

“It was a better atmosphere to work in than with the previous board,” Sandford said after Monday’s session. “A more respectful, collaborative environment.”

Tom Hearn, the new board chairman, started Monday’s session by reading a personal statement praising teachers and pledging a cooperative relationship with the teachers union.

“We want your help going over the financial situation of the district and coming to a reasonable settlement that benefits all parties,” Hearn said.

Under the new offer, the district proposes covering 67.5 percent of family premiums, down from 71 percent under the current contract. Annual deductibles, now $200 for individuals and $400 for families, would increase to $750 and $1,500.

The district previously proposed eliminating family premiums and replacing them with annual contributions of $2,000 to a health savings account for each employee.

The district’s insurance costs will increase about 12 percent this year, said Wendell Wardell, the district’s chief operating officer.

The district still would need to cut almost $600,000 to balance the budget. One way to do that, Wardell said, is to postpone the scheduled replacement of some older buses.

The union has not made a counteroffer. “This proposal is something to talk about and certainly something we can negotiate on,” Sandford said.

Bargaining is scheduled to continue July 25.

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