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Willmar, Minn., School Board approves first of six bargaining agreements

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board approved a contract with its special education paraprofessionals bargaining unit Monday. Negotiations are continuing other bargaining units, including teachers.

Human Resources Director Liz Fischer told the board that negotiations went well with the group, which has 110 members. The group will receive a 2.8 percent overall increase in salary and benefits during the two-year contract.

Paraprofessionals are not required yet to gain Highly Qualified certification, but the requirement is expected to come in the next few years.

To be highly qualified, paras must have at least a two-year degree, take a state test or develop a portfolio to demonstrate their knowledge.

The contract requires that all paras be highly qualified by July 1, 2013. "The paras took it on now, which is excellent," Fischer said.

The bargaining unit also agreed to receive copies of their contract and other paperwork electronically, which will help the district in its efforts to conserve resources, Fischer said.

Fischer said the district is close to agreements with three other bargaining units. The district is negotiating a total of six contracts this year.

During the public comment time at the beginning of the meeting, David Herzer of Willmar had asked why the Negotiations Committee of the board had not changed when new committees were appointed after the first of the year.

Herzer said he felt the committee's makeup represented a possible conflict of interest for the board, as well. While he knew of no inappropriate actions by its members, he said, the committee contained a retired teacher, a substitute teacher and a board member who has a contract with the school district.

Board member Wayne Lenzmeier turned to the audience at the meeting and said, "That's me," when Herzer mentioned the retired teacher. Other committee members are Mike Reynolds, who was approved as a substitute teacher Monday evening, and Linda Mathiasen, who contracts with the district to produce its newsletter.

Board Chairman Nathan Streed said later in the meeting that the committee has been involved in negotiations for months, and he didn't want to disrupt that effort by changing the membership.

"I don't think there is an issue," Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said after the meeting. "All these people were elected to represent the whole community."

In addition, a majority of the seven-member board is needed to approve any of the contracts, he added.

The board approved Reynolds' employment as a substitute teacher, a position he has held in the past. Board members are allowed to work for the district as long as they don't make more than $8,000 in a fiscal year and a majority of the full board approves. Board member Dan Croonquist also works as a substitute.

Reynolds said he asked to return to subbing because his job was recently eliminated. "I hope this will be a short-time need," he said.

The board also approved the 2012-13 school calendar. School will begin on Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day. The last day of school will be June 5, 2013. Winter break will be from Dec. 24 to Jan. 4, and spring break will begin March 25, with school resuming on April 1.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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