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BOLD school officials, teachers fail to reach contract agreement

The Minnesota Department of Education will withhold about $21,300 in state aid from the BOLD School District because the School Board and the BOLD Education Association did not reach agreement on a new 2009-2011 contract ahead of Friday's deadline, a BOLD official says.

BOLD is one of 28 school districts around the state that missed the deadline, according to Education Minnesota, the state teachers union.

BOLD Superintendent Tom Farrell said Monday the state will withhold $25 per pupil unit during the 2009-2010 year.

Both sides met for the first time Sept. 10 and talks continued for five more sessions.

During the seventh session Jan. 6, the district proposed a freeze the first year and an increase of about 2 percent on salaries in the second year (a lump-sum payment of approximately $1,000 per teacher), Farrell said. He said the district asked the union to take the board's proposal to the teachers for a vote. Teachers defeated the proposal last Thursday.

Matt Sullivan, BOLD high school health teacher who is in his fourth term as negotiator, said the proposal was (in the board's figures) about a .98 percent increase over two years, he said.

"The union was more unified for that vote than any other vote I've seen,'' Sullivan said.

Farrell said conversations continued over the phone through Friday.

"There was an effort on both sides to try to get something done before the deadline and a willingness to come together to get it done," he said. "It's just that we're still too far apart."

Sullivan said both parties agreed to a mediation session Jan. 13. He said the board cancelled the meeting and headed to the Minnesota School Boards Association conference in the cities.

"We were willing to meet and get an agreement,'' Sullivan said. "We even sent an offer on Friday afternoon. We worked with the mediator and the board over the phone on Friday evening.''

Sullivan said union negotiators were coaching and running the clock for the boys' basketball game. Right after the game, said Sullivan, the union sent another offer to the board, "which we thought we had agreement on.''

Around 10 p.m., Sullivan said the superintendent determined the board could not get its members to the board room to vote in time.

"We had 52 members to reach to their 6. It did not happen, so we will continue to meet to get a settlement,'' Sullivan said.

Farrell said the board realizes the district has an excellent staff and the offer does not reflect on their performance. He said a number of factors affect the board's decisions.

He said state aid -- the primary revenue source for schools -- will not increase during the 2009-2011 school years and is projected to remain flat for the next six to seven years. He said BOLD's student enrollment is projected to decline a minimum of 15 students in the 2010-11 school year, for a loss of about $100,000 in state aid and the loss of approximately two additional full-time equivalent teachers.

As part of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's effort to balance the state's budget, unallotment of BOLD's $1 million to $1.5 million in 2009-2010 aid will be shifted to October 2010.

Also, state officials are considering deferring an additional $1.4 million payment due in March, April and May of 2010, with repayment in June 2010, according to Farrell.

The superintendent said the aid shifts would require the district to spend its remaining fund balances and possibly be required to borrow money to meet its financial obligations.

Farrell also said buildings on both campuses are facing numerous deferred heating system, plumbing, lighting and roof maintenance issues.

The superintendent said the district will continue to meet with the union until a contract has been ratified.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150