Teacher negotiations turn testy

Teacher contract negotiations between the Minot Education Association and Minot Public School Board turned testy Tuesday night when board negotiators presented an initial proposal that would have erased much of the teachers’ long term leave rights.

“I told you, I don’t play games,” said district business manager Scott Moum, the chief negotiator for the school board.

The board’s original proposal called for eliminating leaves due to extended serious illness, leave for child rearing, extended leave for continuing education, extended leave for foreign teaching, and extended leave for career exploration. It also called for deleting the “absence due to necessity leave” and would have eliminated a teacher’s right to take up to five days of sick leave in any one year for the illness of a family member. In addition, the original proposal would have allowed teachers to accumulate up to 30 days of sick leave instead of the current 180

Moum said the board’s first contract proposal was in direct response to the teachers’ initial contract proposal, delivered on Monday evening during the second meeting of the two sides.

“Is (this contract) what we would have proposed to start with? No,” said Moum.

He suggested that the elimination of extended leaves was partially in response to teacher concern about one-year contracts for teachers hired to replace those taking extended leaves.

Moum had previously said that the board was concerned that teachers are out of the classroom too often on leave. He estimated teachers were gone an average of nine days per year this year. MEA negotiator Bill Irmen suggested those numbers might be skewed due to the number of teachers in the district who were forced to take extended leaves for serious illness or maternity leave this year. Moum said the number of leave days taken look consistent from year to year.

In response to Moum’s first contract proposal, Irmen said he did not believe the MEA had taken an “antagonistic tone” with its initial proposal. Irmen said the board has expressed concern about teacher productivity, but its initial contract proposal showed little concern for employee well-being and will not make them feel appreciated.

“I don’t think they’re going to be feeling the love,” said Irmen.

MEA negotiator Marlene Srock asked what the board negotiators found objectionable about the teachers’ proposal.

Moum said the board objected in particular to the MEA’s proposal that “Minot Public School policies shall not be changed until the contemplated changes have been discussed with the president of the (Minot Education) Association.”

The board also objected to the teachers proposal of an increase to a base salary of $38,300, up from the current base salary of $33,800 for a beginning teacher with no experience. In their first contract proposal, the MEA had also proposed an increase in accumulated sick leave to 186 days instead of 180 days, and giving teachers three days of personal leave each year instead of two. The board also objected to the teachers’ proposal to eliminate language defining family members as a “spouse, parents, dependents and children or stepchildren under 21” and instead refer to just “family.” Irmen said Monday that people have different definitions of family members. Moum said the board has consistently refused to change the definition of “family members” during previous contract negotiations.

The board offered a second, slightly altered proposal late in the negotiating session on Tuesday.

The board revised contract proposal drops the board’s request to delete leaves for extended serious illness and for continuing education. Every contract proposal the board submits will include cumulative sick leave of up to 180 days and would allow for sick leave to care for family members, defined as a “spouse, parents, dependents and children or stepchildren under age 21,” said Moum. In addition, Moum said the board will not ask to eliminate child rearing leaves entirely but would ask for some minor language changes.

Other aspects of the board’s first proposal remained the same. The board is proposing a two-year contract, with a $1,500 increase on the base salary for 2013-2014, bringing it to $35,300 and an $800 increase to the base salary in 2014-2015, an increase to $36,100. In 2014-2015, North Dakota Teacher Fund For Requirement saw rates increase by 2 percent for both employee and employer shares. Teachers would be required to pick up their 2 percent increase and the district would also pay an additional 2 percent.

The school board also proposes that it will pay for health insurance increases for teachers, estimated at an increase of 6.3 percent in 2013-2014 and 7 percent for 2014-2015.

Moum estimated that the board’s proposal would amount to a 5.66 percent increase in salary and benefits for 2013-2014 and a 5.31 percent increase in 2014-2015.

He estimated that the teachers’ initial proposal would cost the district $6.2 million and would amount to a 14.1 percent increase in salary and benefits.

At the first negotiating session, Moum indicated that the board will need to balance a budget that has a projected deficit of $1.95 million and 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. On Tuesday, board negotiator Roger Kluck, the board’s vice president, said the school board wants to avoid raising property taxes.

The two sides agreed to meet next at 3 p.m. May 28 in the board room of the Minot Public School District Administration Building.

Negotiators for the school board are Moum, board vice president Roger Kluck and board member Brenda Foster. Negotiators for the MEA are Irmen, Srock and Mike Gessner.