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AUSTIN EDITION - Austin teachers back in talks with mediator

By Nikki Merfeld

*merfeld@postbulletin.com

With a mediator's help, contract talks between teachers and Austin Public Schools resumed Monday. The parties had not met since Dec. 19. Both sides agreed then that a mediator's help was necessary to arrive at a tentative agreement to put before a vote of the teachers.

Lance Teachworth, commissioner of the state's Bureau of Mediation Services, met with members of the district and of the Austin Education Association to discuss the concerns. Negotiations started at 10 a.m. and continued until about 8 p.m. The next negotiating session will be Feb. 6.

The main issues on the table are wages and health insurance, Teachworth said.

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The district has said it cannot afford double-digit increases in health insurance premiums and, therefore, needs a co-payment from teachers.

Teachers have said they are willing to contribute, but cannot afford to have their entire raise, in most cases, consumed by that co-payment.

The district has offered across-the-board raises of 2 percent for this year and next. It also proposed step and lane increases of 1.1 percent and 0.9 percent for this year, which 28 percent of the staff would receive.

At the December meeting, teachers requested a 4 percent salary increase for next year. Julie Jensen, director of employee relations, said the district could not afford that. Teachers also requested a lower co-payment than proposed for this year.

Another sticking point for teachers has been a request to establish a matching annuity program.

Since the December meeting, Gov. Jesse Ventura has announced his proposal to balance the state's budget. His plan would include reducing educational funding and requiring districts to pay sales tax on services currently exempted, such as attorney fees.

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