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PR-B teacher contract negotiations come to a close

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Contract negotiations between Pine River-Backus Education Minnesota (PRBEMN) and the Pine River-Backus School Board officially closed with unanimous approval of a contract by the school board Monday, April 21.

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More than a two-thirds majority of the PR-B teaching staff voted to approve the contract April 14. School Board approval was required for the new contract to go into effect.

According to a news release from PR-B School, the contract includes a 1 percent increase for the 2013-14 salary schedule and a 2.75 percent increase to the 2014-15 salary schedule, excluding steps 14 and 15. Steps 14 and 15 were excluded because they are subject to a large salary increase already. Salary increase are retroactive to September, when the former contract expired.

The contract also includes an increase in the district’s insurance premium contribution from $330 a month to $390 a month effective May 1. The district’s Teacher’s Retirement Association (TRA) contribution was increased from 6.5 percent to 7 percent in 2013 and 2014 and to 7.5 percent in 2014 and 2015 as was legislatively mandated. Teacher extended time pay rate also increased from $23 an hour to $23.50 an hour.

Both sides compromised. The new contract includes larger salary increases than the school board initially intended, while teachers agreed to a lower health care contribution by the district. They also abandoned the request for stipends for elementary yearbook staff, weight room supervisors and College in the School class instructors.

“We were looking for a 2 and a 2, so we went for a 1 and a 2.75. We also gave up all of the extra stuff that was on there,” said Dawn Bergerson, president of the Pine River-Backus Education Association (PRBEA).

“I guess they put a lot more money on the salary schedule than they intended,” said PR-B Superintendent Cathy Bettino.

Many parties from the negotiations are happy to see them come to a close.

“I’m glad it’s done. I think there was a lot of miscommunication. I think we had a team of teachers that were new to it, and I think that ultimately we ended up with a package that was fair and turned out okay,” Bettino said.

“I know the union is pleased with the ending of the negotiations and with the results. People were happy to get more than a 1 and a 1, which was our main push. We gave a little back on the insurance. We went back to $390 instead of $405, but other than that, the vote was overwhelmingly positive,” Bergerson said.

Katy Botz, Pine River-Backus School Board Member and Negotiation Team Member, said, “It’s always a challenge to negotiate contracts. You want to be fair and respectful of your employees and at the same time hold the line for the organization and the work we need to do. The packages become rich very quickly – step and lane advancements costs vary, but average out to almost 4 percent of the package. Add new TRA requirements and we’re already looking at packages that are close to 5 percent. That’s a real cost to the District.”

Negotiations officially began in May of 2013, though negotiations were delayed so negotiators for the union could attend training. The Bureau of Mediation Services assisted with the negotiations. During the process of negotiations, teachers organized “work to rule” days where teachers assembled at the school entrance to enter and leave at the exact time described in their contracts, instead of coming early or staying late.

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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