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Pequot Lakes teachers' union, school board to resume negotiations in April

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Pequot Lakes teachers, who’ve been working without a contract since June 2013, and the district’s school board may resume contract negotiations as early as April.

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Education Minnesota Pequot Lakes (EMPL) president Kim Johnson said union negotiators have not met directly with board negotiators since late summer 2013, after which the board filed for mediation services through the state of Minnesota. State mediation between the groups in November did not yield a settlement.

Superintendent Chris Lindholm said it’s a good sign that the groups are in discussions to meet again directly.

“I’m excited to get back to the table,” he said. “They want a fair settlement, and we want a fair settlement, too.”

Johnson, who’s been union president for four years, said teachers’ salaries have not kept pace with the increased cost of living, and that in the last six years they’ve accepted soft freezes as part of their contract agreements.

“The vast majority of teachers (in Pequot Lakes) are very proud to be teachers here,” she said. “But our members are struggling financially.”

Lindholm said he and the board are sensitive to the cost of living issue, but whatever agreement is reached must be fiscally responsible for the district.

“We want to be able to help deal with that (cost of living increases),” he said. “We have to measure how much our revenue has gone up. To increase expenditures more than our revenues would be bad.”

Teachers have been showing their solidarity in their desire to reach an agreement by attending school board meetings in matching blue EMPL T-shirts and wearing buttons that read, “When?”

At this month’s meeting, teachers presented the school board with a number of signed petition postcards requesting the board take action and expressing their support of the negotiating team’s contractual goals.

Johnson said the union and board are continuing to negotiate in good faith and there is no animosity.

“At the point we’re at in negotiations, we would be open to all kinds of avenues, open to lots of possibilities,” she said.

In 2011, the state Legislature removed a January deadline on contract resolutions between school districts and teachers. Districts once faced a financial penalty of $25 per student if they were unable to reach an agreement by Jan. 15. With that penalty no longer in place, contract negotiations can linger unresolved for much longer.

Chris Williams, press secretary for the statewide Education Minnesota union, said that as of March 24, 27 percent of school districts have not yet agreed to new contracts with their teachers.

Of the contracts that have been settled, there’s an average increase in pay of about 2 percent the first year and about 2 percent the second year.

These increases are independent of gains in experience and training, known as “steps and lanes.” This means that teachers who’ve taught longer or have obtained higher levels of education may see a larger increase in pay.

It is difficult to compare contracts across districts based upon steps and lanes, because there is no statewide standard. Pequot Lakes, for example, has 25 steps, while other area districts have as few as 12.

Without a contract agreement, the union is effectively bound to the terms of its previous contract. Once a settlement is reached, however, any salary increases agreed upon would be applied retroactively to the end of the previous contract.

Chelsey Perkins can be reached at chelsey.perkins@pineandlakes.com. Follow her at facebook.com/PEJChelsey and on Twitter @PEJ_Chelsey.

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Chelsey Perkins
Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her Bachelor's degree in professional journalism from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Perkins has interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before joining the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.
(218) 855-5874
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