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Menahga School teachers union negotiates new contract

When the Menahga School Board proposed changes to the teachers' salary package, the negotiating committee left the room to hold a brief private meeting.

Local teachers representing the Education Minnesota Menahga (EMM) union previously requested a wage increase for the next biennium.

When they met with the Menahga School Licensed Negotiation Committee Wednesday, they didn't get the answers they had hoped for.

The proposal includes a 1.5 percent salary package increase instead of the 7.6 percent that EMM requested for 2009-10.

The board also proposed a hard freeze to the salary package for 2010-11, while EMM proposed a 5.1 percent increase.

Total increased cost to the district for the two-year contract would be almost $98,000.

"I know that's not what you guys want, and we're not saying that you guys aren't doing a good job by any means," school board vice chair Jody Bjornson said. "But we're looking at the economic situation that we have all around us."

Under the new proposal, teachers would work 182 days - a change from the 180 duty days in the current contract. Out of the 182 days, 174 must be student-contact days.

Additionally, an eight-hour day would be required as opposed to the seven hours and 45 minutes the teachers currently work.

Representing EMM were Dawn Rossbach, Michelle Koch, Allan Cleveland and Dan Besonen.

They said by adding up the 15 extra minutes, a total of 5.7 days would be added to the contract.

"There is a huge difference between just offering a freeze but also expecting us to work more days," sixth grade teacher Cleveland said. "Don't come in and add all those days to the contract without compensating us and expect that we'd be OK with that."

The board presented EMM with the fiscal year-end audit, which showed a $1.4 million fund balance and the reduction in government aid the district will see in the upcoming years.

Beginning fiscal year 2010, aid payments will be reduced to 73 percent during the year with the remaining 27 percent being paid in the subsequent year.

"In years past, we had to cash flow $500,000," said superintendent Mary Klamm. "Now this year, we're taking a look at having to cash flow almost $1.5 million."

The teachers said they were willing to discuss the changes when they present their own proposal at the next negotiation session, but Koch expressed concern over the amount of time some of the work takes.

The second grade teacher said other districts in the area are finding time within professional development days to give their teachers ample time to work on report cards and other business of the school.

"The staff development is great," Koch said. "It would also be really nice to say that we value your time."

The board and EMM agreed that some specific language used in different elements of the contract will have to be cleaned up before both sides reach an agreement.

For example, according to the board's proposal, a teacher requesting merit leave must pay the district the substitute teacher's rate plus benefits, whether or not a substitute is hired.

"If you're not hiring a sub, why would the teacher have to fork over $100?" asked Cleveland. "It's not hurting the district, there is no sub hired."

Bjornson said the idea is to encourage teachers to attend staff development days instead of using their merit leave during those workshops.

It wouldn't be fair for a teacher who takes a merit leave on a normal school day and has to pay for a sub, while another who chooses a staff development day isn't required to pay the same amount, he added.

At the end of the discussion, board members emphasized that they're simply presenting their proposal after hearing the union's proposal. The salary freeze is nothing personal.

"It's not a reflection of how I feel or how we feel about your performance as teachers," Bjornson said.

"It's a snap shot of reality," school board chairman Durwin Tomperi agreed.