The Indianola School District and Indianola Education Association have reached a tentative agreement on the master contract. This comes after a two-month negotiations process marked by tension and public outcry.
The crux of the matter was a 2017 change in Iowa’s public sector collective bargaining law (Chapter 20 of Iowa Code). Now it’s illegal to bargain over certain points, like health insurance, while other “permissive” language — topics like schedules and overtime pay — is optional.
This state issue became a local issue in January when the district and teachers started renegotiating Indianola’s master contract.
“I do understand why it’s emotional because there is a big change,” Superintendent Art Sathoff told the Indianola Independent Advocate.
At least the process for collective bargaining remained the same. The education association presented an initial offer Jan. 8, with the district answering Jan. 15. It was the start of a back-and-forth that would either end in an agreement or move into mediation, then possibly arbitration.
Since health insurance legally can’t be part of the master contract, it was off the table during negotiating. It will become an item in the district’s employee handbook.
Even still, that caught people’s attention, along with the district’s initial proposal to remove permissive language. Educators and community members packed Indianola School Board’s two meetings in February to voice concerns during the public comment portion of the evening.
Sathoff later explained that removal of permissive language isn’t about saving money. Indianola’s general education teachers are in the 96th percentile in the state for pay, he pointed out, while the district’s special education teachers are in the 97th.
“It’s more about flexibility, some efficiency — management’s right to try to manage the school as well as it can for the benefit of students,” Sathoff said.
By Wednesday, March 6, it was make-or-break time for the district and education association to reach a tentative agreement before moving on to mediation. The district presented a second offer to the IEA.
Thursday, March 7, both Sathoff and a representative from the Iowa State Education Association confirmed a tentative agreement had been signed.
The terms of the agreement can’t be made public until first ratified by the Indianola Education Association, then approved by the school board.
The Indianola Independent Advocate wasn’t able to reach representatives of the education association to know the group’s timetable for voting. If they were to approve the tentative agreement by Friday, it could possibly go before the school board during its regular meeting Monday, March 11.
That would mark the close of an unusually contentious and high-profile negotiations season.
“It is a chance to have good conversations and work through things and strengthen relationships, too,” Sathoff said of other years. “I mean, negotiations can be positive, and they have been pretty positive here. The difference this year has been it’s been so public, politicized and a lot of fears are driving negativity.”