Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Soap Lake schools approve bargaining agreement for coaches

Staff Writer | August 30, 2023 6:07 PM

SOAP LAKE — After 14 years without a collective bargaining agreement, the Soap Lake School Board approved a CBA with the Coaches Association in the Soap Lake School District during Monday’s regular meeting. The agreement is in place until July 31, 2024.

Board member Curt Dotson was initially against accepting the agreement without modifications.

“If it's been 14 years without this in place. if we put this in place, then we're in a more difficult position to negotiate next year,” said Dotson. “I think if we put this in place there's going to be precedent, so if we do want to make changes to it we're going to be in a lot more difficult position based on precedent set from the year of 2023-24.”

The last coaches’ CBA expired in 2009 due to a sunset clause in the contract, and a new contract was never put into place. The CBAs for classified employees and certified employees will be up for negotiation at the end of the school year.

Soap Lake School District Superintendent Aaron Chavez said he wanted to see at least a portion of the agreement approved at Monday’s meeting.

“It's important. I mean, the coaches are coaching, we have seasons, Fall seasons in place,” said Chavez. “We need to give them some reassurance that this is the rate and the rest of it we want to continue negotiating. Adding that might give them some reassurance.”

“I think they’ve had a reassurance for the last 14 years, haven't they?” said Dotson. “I mean they've been paid and there hasn't been an issue.”

Teacher and cheer coach Erin Allen said she was concerned that the Coaches Association had not had a CBA for so long after Dotson said that the coaches had been paid well for those 14 years.

“They did, but that also guarantees that,” said Allen. “That follows the rules and I'm a rule follower and I like rules and that tells me there are rules That tells me there's rules in that you're going to pay me.”

One of Dotson’s initial concerns was regarding the base pay of about $54,000 written in the contract. Dotson said that if they had a higher base salary compared to other school districts they would be “behind the eight ball” when it comes time to negotiate the classified employees and certified employees CBAs.

However, Allen later confirmed that the Coaches Association agreed to use the same base pay of about $52,000 from the previous school year for the contract instead of the increased pay for the school year, meaning the data entered in the CBA up for approval was incorrect. After the board learned that the base pay was the same as the previous year, Dotson said he was comfortable accepting the agreement.

Before coming to this conclusion, the board worked out several other possible issues in the agreement, including classified employees being able to get overtime pay.

Sheryl Montgomery said that there is no way to separate the classified employees’ normal hours from their coaching hours, meaning any combined hours over 40 would result in overtime pay for classified employees. Certified employees are salaried and exempt from overtime as professionals in the school district. Under the new agreement, coaches who do not work for the school district in a position other than coaching are also provided a full contract and do not get overtime pay.

Dotson said he was concerned this difference in pay could cause headaches for the board later on. Other board members discussed if there was a way to work out a distinct contract with classified employees that would prevent the added expense of overtime pay.

Montgomery said that the school district could open itself up to a lawsuit if they do not adhere to the Fair Labor Standard Act and provide overtime pay to the appropriate employees, in this case, classified employees who become coaches.

Dotson said he was also concerned about hiring too many coaches for a sport when players may leave the team after the season has already started and leave the district stuck with an excess amount of coaches for the number of players on the team. Dotson asked Allen what she thought of the potential issue.

“Do you let that coach go? Or do you keep them on the books?” asked Dotson.

“I say you don't hire that third coach until you have a solid amount of numbers,” said Allen.

After a lengthy discussion, the board voted unanimously to approve the CBA between the Soap Lake Coaches Association and the school district for one year, from Aug. 1, 2023, to July 31, 2024, with the stipulation that the pay scale be updated to reflect the appropriate base pay.

Gabriel Davis may be reached at Download the Columbia Basin Herald app on iOS and Android.



Soap Lake School Board member Curt Dotson, right, participates in the discussion on the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Soap Lake Coaches Association and the Soap Lake School District, which was approved at Monday’s meeting.