Westminster's 340 elementary teachers will hold a strike vote Friday unless the school board meets the teachers' union demands for a 6.5% pay increase, union president Erika Fickle said Monday.
Barbara Winars, administrator for personnel services in Westminster School District, said the school board is offering a 5% pay raise, and no more, because of the district's "very austere budget."
But Fickle said teachers believe that the district can afford to pay them more and are insistent on the 6.5% raise.
"If the negotiators for the district don't offer the money on Tuesday, our teachers will be furious," Fickle said. "I'll report to the teachers at a meeting on Wednesday, and they may want to hold a strike vote then, but we're urging them to wait until Friday, when we have the strike vote scheduled."
The average teacher's salary in the district is about $30,000, according to both Fickle and Winars.
Both sides meet today in hope of averting a strike.
But Winars said Monday that the school board had not authorized its negotiators to go beyond 5% and that no greater offer could be authorized until the board's regular meeting Thursday.
Classes are scheduled to open Sept. 8 in Westminster elementary schools. And Winars said Monday that even if a strike is called, schools will open on that date.
"We've made arrangements to have qualified, certificated teachers available for all schools, and all schools will open on Sept. 8, as scheduled," Winars said.
At issue is a new contract for the teachers, who have been working under the old pact, which expired on July 1, 1986. When talks on a new pact broke down last spring, both sides agreed to a state-supervised "fact-finding" procedure, in which a three-person team studies the controversy and makes recommendations.
"The fact-finding resulted in 26 recommendations, and our school board supports all 26 recommendations, including the one calling for a flat 5% pay raise," Winars said.
Fickle said the teachers' union, the Westminster Teachers Assn., supports most of the fact-finding report, but not the recommendation for a 5% pay raise. "We want the 1.5% money that the state pays directly to the district for the longer school days our teachers now work," she said.
Fickle was referring to special state money, authorized in 1983 by the school reform legislation, Senate Bill 813, that directly grants extra money to all schools that increase the length of their school day.
Winars acknowledged that the "longer-day money" was passed directly to the teachers in the previous contract, but added that the proposed new contract doesn't call for passing along those funds. "The fact-finders recommended a flat 5% pay raise," she stressed.
The proposed pay raise would be retroactive for the past school year. Still to be decided is a possible pay raise for the current year. The school district has asked that last year's pay raise first be settled and that later talks arrange a pay raise for the current school year. The union has asked that an immediate pay raise offer for this year be made, and it has suggested an 11% pay increase.
Yet another big difference between the two sides is so-called "agency fees." The term refers to mandatory fees paid to a union, regardless of whether a teacher decides to join. Such fees are only fair, teacher unions have said, because the union negotiates for all teachers.
Westminster's school board does not favor agency fees "and the fact-finders recommended against agency fees," Winars said.