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Contract negotiations continue at PR-B

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Pine River-Backus (PR-B) teacher contract negotiations have been going since the end of August, and though some compromise has been reached, there are still details under discussion.

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“The biggest issues are money on the salary schedule. At least a cost-of-living increase for teachers, because they are feeling a financial pinch also,” said Dawn Bergerson, Pine River-Backus Education Association (PRBEA) president. “It’s been four contracts, which is eight years, that we have not had a cost-of-living adjustment on our salary schedule. The other thing is our health care. About half the teachers, maybe a little more, take the health care from the school. As you know, health care costs are going up, and premiums are going up. So, they were looking for more money for health care from the district. Then, we do have some other things on the side.”

Those other items include additional stipends for College in the School teachers, elementary yearbook staff, special education teachers and wrestling/weight room supervisors.

About the College in the School teachers, Bergerson said, “Their job is above a full-time job because of all the paperwork.”

To demonstrate the work that teachers at PR-B do beyond what is outlined in their contracts, teachers have begun to hold “work-to-rule” days, starting with the first one Thursday, April 3.

“It’s basically just to put some pressure on the employer to settle the contract. In any job, you go above and beyond what you are supposed to be doing,” Bergerson said. “Teaching is no different. A lot of our elementary teachers are here at 7 a.m. because they have a huge work load, and just to get ready for their kids. The majority of our teachers stay past 3:20 every day. They give up meeting times and parent phone call times. All of that is encompassed in our day.”

Some teachers also give up lunch breaks to help students. Teacher Jean Grev explained a special service called “lunch bunch,” where teachers and staff dedicate extra effort and time during lunch to help students who have missed classes, are behind on work or need help with a subject.

“There were just so many ninth-graders failing. We had new beginnings and credit recovery. We just wanted to see if we could get them into our rooms so they could have one-on-one lessons. Any of those teachers could help tutor them, or if they didn’t know the answer they could find the answer,” Grev said. “It’s really grown from that.”

Some teachers are giving up early morning class prep time on Tuesdays for a similar program called the Breakfast Club.

“It’s to help those kids that are in Lunch Bunch but maybe they do better in the morning or maybe they need both services to help them be successful,” Grev said.

Because these types of services are not included in their contracts, teachers are technically not paid for them. Work-to-rule days are basically a reminder of these additional services.

“The teachers are just wanting the state average on the salary schedule,” Bergerson said.

Superintendent Cathy Bettino said she would like to avoid speculation on the sensitive subject of negotiations, but did say the Bureau of Mediation Services (which is handling mediation with PRBEA) has offered two different settlement packages to the teacher membership. Both packages were turned down, though Bergerson said they are coming closer to agreement.

The current tentative agreement includes increases in the district’s monthly insurance premium contributions from $335 to $405, including both health and life insurance, with health insurance effective in September 2014; additional stipends or payments to College in the School teachers, special education teachers, weight room supervisors and publishers of the elementary yearbook; addition of a 16th step on the salary schedule; a 1 percent increase in each of the next two years with steps 14 and 15 frozen; and an increase of teacher’s retirement plan contributions of .5 percent in each of the two years from 6.5 percent to 7 percent and 7 percent to 7.5 percent, respectively.

Bergerson said one of the sticking points with this offer is that the salary increase is retroactive, but the other changes are not. Those changes that are not retroactive would be effective in September 2014. With a contract that expired in September 2013, this is an important difference to teachers.

In spite of the differences in opinion, Bergerson said negotiations have been respectful.

“I think the negotiation process is always a tough process to go through. Everyone knows what they want and it’s kind of hard to get down to what can be afforded by the district. But I think it has been a respectful process so far,” Bergerson said.

Bergerson said PRBEA plans to hold at least one work-to-rule day each week until an agreement is reached. During the April 3 demonstration with questions from students and parents dropping off their kids, Bergerson said it was obvious that students and parents were among those to take notice.

Travis Grimler can be reached at travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him at facebook.com/PEJTravis and on Twitter @PEJ_Travis.

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