School board OKs new deals

By Dick Mason, The Observer December 18, 2012 09:26 am

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in Friday’s Observer. But due to an editorial error, the entire story did not appear. It runs here in its entirety. 

The La Grande School Board unanimously ratified a three-year contract for the school district’s classified staff Wednesday.

The contract does not provide any base pay increases but it will allow employees to earn about 2.2 percent more money than they did in 2011-12. The pact includes four additional work days, ones that were cut for 2011-12 when the district trimmed school days due to a budget shortfall. The school board restored the four days for 2012-13 last spring.

The new contract does not provide an increase in health insurance benefits. The district will continue to pay $1,004 a month for full-time employees for health insurance premiums.

La Grande School Superintendent Larry Glaze said he wishes the district could afford to provide the classified staff with pay increases. The district’s classified staff employees have not received a base salary increase for at least five years.

“Our employees continue to make sacrifices on behalf of kids,’’ Glaze said. “They have not been getting the raises they deserve. We appreciate their understanding.’’

The pact ratified by the school board was approved by the classified staff last week, 49-11. 

The three-year contract has a re-opener clause that will allow the financial elements of the contract to be renegotiated for 2013-14 beginning in March. 

The district has 102 classified employees. They include cooks, secretaries, maintenance workers, custodians and paraprofessionals who serve as teacher aides.

In other business Wednesday, the board voted to renew the district’s contract with the La Grande Certified Public Accounting firm of Seydel, Lewis, Poe, Moeller & Gunderson for auditing services. 

“They do a good job of holding our feet to the fire. If something is not being done right, we want to hear about it,’’ Glaze said.

The CPA firm has performed the school district’s audit for each of the last three years. The firm’s 2011-12 audit reported was presented at Wednesday’s meeting by Brent Gunderson, one of its CPAs.

Gunderson spoke highly of the school district’s financial record keeping, and found the district in compliance with all standards. Gunderson described the report as “a clean report’’ which was the highest he could give.

 Gunderson also spoke  highly of the steps the school district has taken to better monitor student body funds. 

“I’m impressed with the work you have put in on this,’’ Gunderson said during a presentation to the school board.

He noted that the school district lost a substantial amount in federal funding in 2011-12 because of  expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and saw its expenses for the Public Employees Retirement System rise by 80 percent. 

Despite this, the school district’s ending fund balance for 2011-12 rose slightly, which Gunderson said is a credit to how the finances of the school district are being handled.   

The La Grande School District lost about $569,000 in federal funding in 2011-12 and saw its PERS expenses rise to $612,000.