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Why open superintendent contracts early? Board replies, "why not?"

With teacher contracts expired since June 30, some Pine River-Backus staff, former staff and local taxpayers are asking why the PR-B School Board is already discussing Superintendent Cathy Bettino’s contract, which is valid until June 30, 2014.

Teachers union and school board representatives say the answer is because nobody at the August or September school board meetings gave a reason not to look at Bettino’s next contract.

“We have three brand new board members, and when they were asked if they wanted to negotiate with the superintendent they said, ‘Sure, let’s get it done,’ not realizing that usually the contracts that are already expired are usually settled first,” said Dawn Bergerson, Pine River-Backus Education Association (PRBEA) president. “I feel when they asked why they couldn’t, nobody really gave them a good answer of why they should or shouldn’t do it, so they decided to just go ahead and negotiate with her.”

“I asked that question and there was no reason. Nobody stated a reason. If there was no reason why not, why would we not go for it?” said board member Leslie Bouchonville.

Traditionally, this is not the order of contract negotiations.

“When we settle anybody’s individual contract is not written in stone,” said board chair Sandra Poferl. “We usually try to get the teachers’ (contract) done, then stay within what we’ve done for the teachers for everybody else.”

Approving teacher contracts has traditionally set guidelines for the next contracts settled. As a result, the teachers’ contract was traditionally considered while negotiating the superintendent’s contract.

In addition, Bergerson said that with a superintendent contract already negotiated, there may be less money in the school budget for teacher contract negotiations.

Teacher contract negotiations this year were delayed by a month to allow three new union negotiators to attend training. Contracts in the past could be settled in months or more than a year. As a result, when Bettino asked the board to consider beginning negotiations for her board member, some board members saw the opportunity to get her contract done and out of the way.

Bettino said the only reason she requested that the board consider beginning negotiations was because the Minnesota Association of School Administrators recommends superintendents begin negotiations upon beginning the final year of their contracts. Bettino said this is because superintendents do not have continuing contract rights, while teachers do.

A concern was raised that the contract negotiations began early because board members might change in the next election; however, the next election is November 2014, and Poferl said Bettino’s contract would need to be settled before her current contract expires in June 2014.

“The thing is, it’s going to be solved. No matter when we do it, it will be solved before the next election,” Poferl said.

Bergerson said both sides of the teacher contract negotiations would like to settle soon. The union has already received an offer from the school board and submitted a counter offer Oct. 9.

Travis Grimler may be reached at Follow him on Facebook.