Knoxville Education Association leaders Matt Heston and Jennifer Lambirth listen Monday to school board members during a meeting in late June.

KNOXVILLE — Members of the Knoxville Education Association, the bargaining unit that negotiates the contract of Knoxville’s teachers and other school employees, have voted to re-certify. The voting, which ended Monday, clears the way for KEA to make a contract proposal to the Knoxville School Board in December, said Matt Heston, the group’s chief negotiator.

The re-certification vote became necessary in late June, when KEA declined an amended contract proposed by the board. The proposal, a one-year extension of the group’s current contract, did not include language about insurance benefits. District officials said at the time that they didn’t want to get boxed in by contract wording that would keep them from seeking better benefits.

That was a deal-breaker for KEA,. But its June decision meant that, according to new Iowa collective bargaining law, its members had to vote to show support for the bargaining unit. Local associations need to re-certify if they don’t have a contract in place for more than 12 months before its end date, Heston said.

Members who voted were unanimous in their support, according to the state’s Public Employment Relations Board. Of 153 eligible voters, 129 voted to re-certify. By state law, the 24 members who did not vote are recorded as “no” votes. The result is gratifying, Heston said.

“They all believe that the association should bargain for them,” he said. “It’s nice to see that they believe we’re doing a good job and stand behind us in our bargaining.”

KEA will propose a new two-year contract in December, Heston said. The board usually responds in January, at which point both sides can negotiate privately he said.

KEA member Ryan Richardson, a Knoxville High science teacher, said the vote shows that local educators are engaged in what they do and want a seat at the bargaining table.

“We want the terms of our employment to be described in a contract that must be bargained by both sides, not in a handbook that can be changed without notice,” he said.

Pat Finan is the editor of the Knoxville Journal-Express and Pella Chronicle. He can be reached at 641-295-0624 or via email at editor@journalexpress.net or editor@pellachronicle.com

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