Teacher negotiations focus on balance

Teacher contract negotiations began Monday between the Minot Public School District and the Minot Education Association.

Minot Public Schools business manager Scott Moum told MEA negotiators that the board will need to balance existing needs in the district, such as the need to pay for anticipated increased expenses, with teacher salaries. For instance, the board anticipates that the district will need to hire between 12 and 15 new staff members to teach between 150 and 180 anticipated new students. The cost of the new hires will be about $1 million.

The board will also have to balance a budget that has a projected deficit of $1.95 million, said Moum.

According to his estimate, the district will have approximately $5.5 million in “new money” in next year’s budget; $3.1 million of which would be available to increase wages and benefits for existing teachers, he told MEA negotiators. Moum emphasized that these are just estimates and are subject to change.

The current base salary for the 2012-2013 school year, for a beginning teacher with no experience in the Minot Public School District, is $33,800, which is increased based on years of experience and additional hours of education. The board and the MEA negotiated their last two-year contract in May 2011, just prior to the Souris River Flood of 2011 that devastated the city and heavily damaged or destroyed several school buildings. The district is currently undertaking building projects to replace those damaged schools. Board members will likely ask voters to approve a bond referendum in the fall to pay for new school construction to address growth in the district.

Moum is the lead negotiator for the school board; other board negotiators are board vice president Roger Kluck and board member Brenda Foster. Negotiators for the MEA are teachers Mike Gessner, Marlene Srock and Bill Irmen.

Gessner, Srock and Irmen said they will return with an initial proposal to the board at the next negotiating session, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. May 20. Moum also did not introduce a contract proposal from the board at Monday’s meeting, but said that any offer they make will be “a package” and that individual items are not up for negotiation.

One issue that may come up during negotiations is the availability of sick leave as well as “career exploration leave.”

Moum suggested that the board might seek an end to the practice of granting teachers with at least five years of experience the opportunity to take a “career exploration leave” to explore other career opportunities. Moum said several board members feel that the time for that kind of leave has passed. They feel it is undesirable to have teachers in the district on one-year contracts to replace the teachers on career exploration leaves. MEA negotiators may want to discuss how sick leave is granted.