WATERLOO — A 3.5 percent increase in base wages for each of the next two years was proposed Monday by teachers as they raised concerns about the number of staff that annually leave Waterloo Community Schools.

The initial bargaining offer also sought to restore much of the contract language that was moved to the employee handbook last year.

District administrators proposed a 2 percent raise through the step increases built into the salary schedule for the contract beginning July 1. Each step reflects another year of experience and educational advancement for the teachers, counselors and family support workers represented by the Waterloo Education Association contract.

Nearly 900 district staff are represented by the contract.

Currently, the district’s contract with the WEA starts a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no prior experience at $36,714 per year. At the top of the salary schedule, a teacher with 18 years of experience and 45 credits beyond a master’s degree earns $74,447. Those whose experience puts them beyond the salary schedule also earn additional longevity pay of $200 to $1,400 annually.

Becky Mohorne, WEA president, pointed to hiring and retraining 20 to 25 percent of teaching positions annually. “Why do we have such a large exodus of our workforce every year?” she asked.

Along with the wage increase, she suggested maintaining smaller class sizes and protecting daily planning times, which is proposed new language in the contract. The WEA proposal also takes aim at the district’s removal of much contract language last year after changes approved by the Legislature were signed into law.

District officials “chose to take everything out and put it into a handbook with no input from teachers, the association or the negotiations team,” said Mohorne. She noted that the contract is legally binding but the handbook is not.

Matt Baish, the WEA’s chief negotiator, said staff worries about changes to the salary schedule and work day don’t make for an attractive work environment.

“As professionals, we want what is best for our students,” he said. “But it can’t always come at our expense.”

Superintendent Jane Lindaman defended the district’s efforts to negotiate a good contract with the WEA.

“I would argue that we need to continue our goal of settlements above the state average,” she said. “Our district must continue to enhance our staff and the working conditions. You have my promise that we will work together through the negotiations process.”