February 6, 2006
The head of the Wilson County Education Association says there's no question about the overriding issue for educators when negotiations begin on a new three-year contract.
In a nutshell, WCEA president Jeff Garrett said recently, teacher pay will be the focus of the talks, which will begin only weeks after wrapping up negotiations on a one-year contract extension for educators.
Garrett indicated bitter disappointment of teacher raises not being addressed in the recently concluded talks and pledged the issue would be the key to the upcoming negotiations.
"It's truly a sad statement that a place like Wilson County would rank 113th in salary for beginning teachers," he said. "Definitely the salary issue will be the most important thing for us next time around."
Though the recent negotiations yielded a one-time $1,600 longevity bonus for teachers who have "topped out" on the pay scale, Garrett said the WCEA will aim for something more widespread during the next round of talks.
"We want to get away from bargaining on things that only benefit a part of our membership," he said. "We represent all teachers, and we want that to be reflected in our next contract."
He said in addition to a pay hike for teachers, the WCEA will push to see benefits improved as well.
"Our insurance costs have gone through the roof, and we're going to try to see that addressed too," Garrett said.
As others have in the past, the current WCEA chief said the county's teacher pay scale makes it difficult to recruit and retain educators, saying surrounding counties are at an advantage when it comes to hiring qualified personnel.
"If other counties right next door to us are paying substantially more in most situations, well, you can see our plight when it comes to quality educators," he said.
He also warned a failure to address teacher pay could have a ripple effect which hinders the county's overall economic growth.
"How does that look to people who may be thinking of bringing a business or a family here, when we can't pay even enough to be competitive in hiring teachers?" he asked.
Garrett said WCEA negotiators will soon meet with administration officials on a timetable to begin bargaining.
Though the current pact is set to expire July 1, Director of Schools Dr. Jim Duncan said it seems unlikely that deadline will be met.
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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