December 27, 2012 | Volume 117, Issue No. 52

Barnum teachers without contract since mid-2011

It has been a year and a half since the contract between the teachers and the Barnum School District expired. Negotiations have not been successful in securing a new contract.

“Our last contract expired at the end of June 2011,” explained Linda Redetzke, President of Education Minnesota, Barnum, in a telephone interview. “We submitted the necessary paperwork informing the board of our intent to negotiate that spring. But the Legislature was talking about freezing salaries so we waited until we knew the results of the legislative session. Teachers’ salaries were not frozen.”

Redetzke explained that the teachers delayed further negotiations until after the referendum election that November and the audit later that month. The teachers had to review the audit, which delayed any action until after the holiday break. Further delays were caused when two members of the union’s negotiating team were incapacitated for a time.

The team was finally able to sit down and set a timeline with finite dates early this year.

The group came up with a proposal and met with the school board’s negotiating team in April.

According to information presented by the union, it asked for a 2 percent increase each year of the two-year contract.

The board proposed a 0 percent increase for teachers in both years.

The union proposal also asks for incremental increases for experience, called steps.

“The board insists on withholding those steps for the 2011-2013 years,” the report stated. “It has already withheld steps in two of the four years of our last two contracts (2007-09 and 2009-11).”

Superintendent Dave Bottem listed the proposals that were offered by the board.

“At the first meeting with the teachers negotiating team on April 16, 2012, the board offered no steps and no lane increases in either year,” he said. “They did agree to some language changes.

“When they met on June 26, the board offered no changes for 2011-2012, and 0 and 0 the second year of the contract. However, they can negotiate for the next two years, and a modified matrix of 2.5 percent was offered for 2013-2014 and 3.175 percent for 2014-2015.

In August the board came back and offered another proposal of no increase for 2011-2012. For 2012-2013, the teachers were offered a step and those at the top of the salary schedule would get a one-time payment of $1,000. And there would be a sunset on the teachers retirement health benefit for teachers hired after June 30, 2013. That would not affect the current teaching staff.”

Supt. Bottem added that the teachers came back with the same proposal that they had presented in April.

In the information presented by the teachers union, comparisons were provided for salary increases in neighboring school districts.

They ranged from .50 percent for the 2011-2012 school year and 1.25 percent for 2012-2013 for the Moose Lake School District, to 1.90 percent for the first year and 1.85 percent the second year in the Hermantown School District.

“We’ve been reasonable,” said Redetzke. “We asked no more that what the other school boards have given.”

Three negotiation sessions and two mediation sessions have been held. The most recent mediation session was held on June 26, 2012. The union negotiating team turned down the district’s last proposal on September 7.

“The vote was 51 to 2,” said Redetzke. “And the offer that we presented to the members was a photocopy of the board’s proposal. It was soundly defeated.” The same offer was accepted by all of the other district employees.

Redetzke said that the board’s next step was to dissolve the negotiating body, and asked the union for an new negotiating team.

“I’m not comfortable with that,” said Redetzke. “They can’t ask that of us.”

The school board has turned the negotiations over to an attorney, Kevin Rupp of the law firm of Ratwik, Roszak and Maloney of Minneapolis.

The attorney met with Kevin Sandstede, the union representative from the Lake Superior Service Unit, on Monday, December 17.

“The board wants to take the personalities out of it,” said Supt. Bottem. “Both Rupp and Standstede are experienced. Hopefully they can use that expertise to come to a resolution that both parties can accept.”

The teachers union is looking for a settlement soon.

“There comes a time when this needs to be settled, and it needs to be fair,” said Redetzke. “Our request is reasonable and competitive. We need to make sure that we can hire and retain good teachers. We are one of the 14 school districts in the state that has not settled.

“We urge the people in the community to contact Superintendent Dave Bottem and urge a settlement. The school district has a $2.3 million fund balance. That fund balance has grown, in part, because of concessions by the teachers … The auditor said that the school district is in good financial shape at the audit report in November.”

Redetzke said that the teachers have been disappointed in the board’s decision to hire an attorney.

“We feel that this move is neither an efficient use of taxpayer dollars nor an effective method of settling our contract,” it was stated in a prepared press release. “We would prefer to see the funds spent on attorney fees go instead toward educational objectives. We also have faith in the arbitration process and would prefer to use a neutral third party arbitrator to reach an agreement. We believe that it is possible for all of us, as members of the educational community, to reach a reasonable settlement that ensures an equitable outcome for Barnum educators and supports quality teaching and learning in our district.”

A swift resolution is the goal of both parties.

“The School Board and I appreciate the fact that our teachers continue to do an outstanding job of teaching even though the lack of a contract is weighing on them,” said Supt. Bottem. “We want to resolve this issue as much as the teachers.”

For more information, contact Redetzke at (218) 390-3413 or by email, lredetzk@barnum.k12.mn.us, or Supt. Bottem at (218) 389-6978, extension 1001, or by email at dbottem@barnum.k12.mn.us, or the Barnum School Board, contact information can be found at the school’s website, www.barnum.k12.mn.us.

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