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SIOUX CITY -- Unionized Sioux City teachers asked for a 3.5 percent pay raise as contract negotiations opened Monday with the public school district's administration.

The Sioux City Education Association, which represents roughly 900 teachers, proposed raising annual teacher base salaries to $35,564. That would amount to an increase of $1,244, or 3.5 percent, said Brenda Zahner, director of the Siouxland UniServ group of the Iowa State Education Association. Zahner represented the bargaining unit at Monday's session.

The local UniServ unit represents seven area union groups of teachers and other education workers.

The Sioux City Educational Support Personnel Association, which represents paraprofessional associates, secretaries and bus assistants, asked for raises of $1.35 per hour. The support personnel are paid a widely varying range of pay.

Both unions are seeking a three-year agreement through 2021 on contract language pieces, but where the wages could be negotiated in each year.

Both unions also requested that the school district address the so-called permissive language issue -- such as leaves of absence, employee hours, grievance procedures and work year and holidays. Last year, Republican lawmakers approved a major overhaul of the state's 40-year-old collective bargaining law, which now limits mandatory items of negotiations to base salaries for most public employees. The new law carved out an exception for public safety unions, which are allowed to negotiate for both wages and benefits.

The contract proposals will be presented to the school board at its next board meeting on Feb. 12, and district negotiators plan to make a counter offer on Feb. 19.

Zahner argued the district should continue to voluntarily negotiate non-wage items such as health insurance, staff reduction procedures, transfers and professional evaluations.

"We feel it’s imperative the district maintain this language that is now permissive under the law as part of the master contract," she said.

Zahner proposed that those permissive portions be addressed in a new Labor Management Committee, which the unions and district officials have been discussing to have eight members.

Zahner and District Superintendent Paul Gausman said there are challenges in adapting to a new negotiating landscape.

"It will be a whole lot easier in future years, unless a future Legislature changes things," Gausman said.

Also, it will now be hard to compare percentage packages that have been proposed or settled in full employment packages. The last package of 2017-18 benefits for the SCEA teachers was set at 3.5 percent, but from now on retirement and health insurance won't be added into those packages, because of the collective bargaining changes for 2018 and forward.

Iowa school districts must set their budgets by April 15.


County and education reporter

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