WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board has approved a two-year contract with the district's teachers.
The contract will allow an overall 1 percent increase in salary and benefits for teachers in the first year and a 1.9 percent increase in the second year.
Members of the teachers union ratified the agreement in December.
State school districts have until Friday to settle their teacher contracts. If they don't, they must pay a penalty to the state.
The salary schedule for the district's 327 teachers will not change during the contract. However, teachers will be able to move to higher levels of the salary schedule based on years of experience. Some teachers may also move up the scale for seeking out additional education.
Human Resources Director Bill Busta told the School Board on Monday that the settlement includes increases in the cost of benefits, so many salary increases will be much smaller than the percentage indicates. Much of the increase in costs is related to an increase in the cost of health insurance, he said.
The 26 teachers who earned additional college credits last summer will receive raises. "They spent some money and went back to school," Busta said, and the district wants to encourage that.
Raises based on experience will not go into place until the 159th day of this year's 182-day contract, so the teachers will have to wait for that. In the second year of the contract, experience raises will go into effect on the 16th day of the contract.
Busta estimated that most teachers will see a raise of roughly $6 per paycheck, about $165 a year. Those receiving credit for additional education will receive about $1,000 more a year, he said.
Busta said the agreement includes some changes in contract language regarding sick leave, parental leave for fathers and preparatory time for early childhood staff.
Board members who were involved in the negotiations praised the teachers and the collaborative method the district uses in contract talks.
The five teachers involved with the negotiations advocated for their membership but also understood the district's financial issues, Busta said. "They were a good group to meet with."
In other business, Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington notified the board that the district will have to return about $11,000 of its Community Education fund balance to local taxpayers.
The Community Education and Recreation Department's fund balance is a bit larger than the state allows it to be, she said, so the property taxes paid in 2011 will reflect a reduction of $10,889. The problem arose when the district and the state used different methods to calculate the fund balance limit.