District, teachers take battle out of bargaining

Suzie Romig
Public Information Officer

Salary negotiations can bring to mind a tense meeting between competitive, guarded attorneys passing numbers on slips of paper across a wide wooden table.

Imagine instead an amicable group meeting of administrators, board members and employees where everyone sits in an open circle. The circle symbolizes a cooperative process and the sharing of information from both sides.

The later picture is the norm these days in the Roaring Fork School District through the advent of interest-based bargaining. Annual teacher salary negotiations are no longer a formal debate but operate like a team-building activity where participants work toward a mutually satisfying end, Superintendent Fred Wall said.

“The educational environment is too collaborative to have a contentious process one time a year that creates tension in the system,” Wall said. Interest-based bargaining ” used successfully in businesses and other school districts ” is based on the noted book “Getting to Yes” that outlines win-win communication.

“It is valuable for solving complex problems in which there are very strong feelings about what the outcomes will be,” explained Wall, who completed his dissertation on interest-based bargaining. “In IBB we identify our common interests, such as making people feel this is a good place to work. Instead of spending energy to get the other side to give in, you spend energy to come up with the best possible solutions.”

Each fall, after student enrollment figures are clear, an outside facilitator assists the IBB team in looking at the district’s exact financial picture and staff needs. If, for example, funds are not available for desired raises, teachers might instead seek improvements in employment policies.

Board member Bruce Wampler said the bargaining process increases understanding, creates positive energy and reduces huge issues to solvable problems.

“Instead of being something that is stressful for everyone, it is a cooperative effort and lets us devote our creative energies toward a solution that will work for everyone,” Wampler said. “The group as a whole works as a team to see if there are reasonable, creative solutions.”

An idea that came out of the IBB discussions is interest-free loans through payroll deductions for district teachers to buy computers for their personal use. The district also created a “fair share agreement,” a set formula that determines a percentage of overall funding that will be used toward salary increases each year.

“That has been a great morale boost because everyone is feeling like they have ownership in the process,” Wall said.

The consensus-building approach has worked so well with salaries ” and helped pull the RFSD out of a previous salary schedule that was financially unobtainable ” that bargaining is used in other possibly touchy areas such as in technology. Care to discuss PC versus Mac?

To sign up to receive a weekly e-mailed “Community Update” from the RFSD or for other questions, call 384-6000 or e-mail

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