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Six months of negotiating ends as ACGC OKs contract for teachers

GROVE CITY -- A two-year contract with the teachers has been approved in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District, bringing an end to negotiations that began in August.

The ACGC School Board unanimously approved the contract Monday.

During voting that took place Thursday, Friday and Monday, certified teaching staff ratified the 2007-09 master agreement on a 54-9 vote, which exceeded the two-thirds majority needed.

The contract includes a 0.8 percent salary increase the first year and a 1.2 percent salary increase the second year, which is slightly higher than a contract that was rejected by teachers earlier in the school year.

The first offer had salary increases of 0.8 percent for each of the two years.

With benefits, the total approved package represents a 4.725 percent increase over two years.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Keith Redfield said a total two-year package increase of about 6 percent was "common" among area school districts.

ACGC Chairwoman Judy Raske said she's glad a compromise was reached that the district can afford. ACGC is currently in statutory operating debt, which means the district's net unreserved general fund balance doesn't meet the standard set forth in state statute, and that has resulted in more than a million dollars in budget cuts in recent years.

The district is scheduled to be out of statutory operating debt on June 30.

The new contract will cost the district an additional $319,221 over two years.

"We did up the dollars slightly," Raske said, adding that the district has money to cover the contract.

Mike McNab, lead union negotiator, said the contract provides "more money for more people," including the district's most senior teachers who no longer qualify for increases based on years of service and education level. About one-third of the ACGC teachers are in that position, he said.

Under the first offer, McNab said senior teachers would have received between $350 and $400 a year for a salary increase.

The approved contract has "a little more money put into that end of the schedule," he said.

The new teachers' contract also includes a one-time $15,000 early retirement incentive.

ACGC is one of seven districts in the state that has the authority to levy for unfunded severance and retirement costs. The district can levy up to $150,000 each year for 10 years under state law.

Also in the contract is a 2 percent increase each year for teachers who coach or supervise extracurricular activities.

The road to reach a contract agreement was drawn out and "tougher than either side wanted," Raske said.

The district missed the Jan. 15 state deadline for approving a contract, resulting in a $25,000 penalty.

Board member Joel Gratz said it was important that the teachers and school board "came together" to settle the contract and move onto the next issue.

That next issue will be another attempt to pass an operating levy. The levy referendum, the fifth ACGC has held since 2005, will be held May 21.

McNab said the ACGC teachers were willing to settle to send a positive signal about the district and encourage people to vote for the levy.

"Now we can focus on promoting the district as a whole and getting the (levy) passed," he said.

Raske said although the district is scheduled to be out of statutory operating debt by this summer, the district will not stay out of debt unless the operating levy is approved.

In other action Monday:

- The board delayed taking action on approving a contract with Roger Rueckert for the part-time, interim superintendent position until details of the contract are finalized. Rueckert will take over the interim superintendent job from Redfield, who did not want to continue past his one-year contract.

- Three instructors were placed on unrequested leave of absence because of "lack of funds and financial limitations." The teachers, Connie Halvorson, Robin Tanner and Lissa Borchert, could be rehired if the factors change.

- Double J Masonry of New London was awarded a bid of $36,220 for maintenance at South Elementary in Cosmos.

- The board heard an update on plans to host at the Cosmos school a day treatment program for youth with mental illness, which could offset operation costs there.

- The board was informed that a new wellness and physical education class approved for next year will give students options for electives and reduce the number of students who will spend empty class periods as teacher assistants.

- The FFA's parliamentary procedure team gave a demonstration of their skills to the school board. The team qualified to compete at the state FFA contest April 27 at the University of Minnesota.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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