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Lac qui Parle Valley misses teacher contract deadline, faces $25,000 fine

MADISON -- The Lac qui Parle Valley School District and its teachers have missed a state deadline for settling a new contract.

Districts that did not make the Friday deadline will be assessed a fine of $25 per pupil unit, about $25,000 in Lac qui Parle's case, according to Superintendent Brad Madsen.

The district and its teachers had been in mediation before the deadline. They had reached a tentative agreement which was not ratified by the teachers, he said.

Local union president Lauri Wyum could not be reached Monday.

Madsen did not want to reveal the details of the tentative agreement. However, he did say that salaries appeared to be the biggest issue in negotiations.

Madsen said the state mediator had contacted him already to offer to meet with the two sides again. "It is our objective to get this thing done," he added.

The district has a fund balance which provides "an adequate cushion in these hard times," Madsen said.

The fund balance may be needed to maintain cash flow if the state delays aid payments this spring. State officials are considering delaying aid payments to help the state with its cash flow problems, but it could create cash flow problems for school districts.

Another issue for Lac qui Parle Valley is the impending closing of the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton. The privately owned prison is set to close Feb. 1.

It's likely families will leave the district when the prison jobs end, he said, and it's hard to know what to expect when planning future school budgets.

Two years ago, 14 school districts missed the contract settlement deadline, according to information from Education Minnesota.

Twice as many missed the deadline this year -- a result of "this historic economy we're going through," said Education Minnesota president Tom Dooher.

Dooher said the economy and the state's financial troubles are contributing to the problems in settling school contracts.

Health insurance and salaries are probably the biggest issues for most districts, he said.

"Over half the teachers in the state of Minnesota have taken a freeze," he said. In negotiations this year, there's been talk of soft freezes and hard freezes.

A soft freeze keeps the salary schedule the same but allows teachers to receive raises by moving up the scale based on experience or additional education. A hard freeze keeps the salary schedule the same and allows no one to move up.

For teachers who have reached the top of the salary schedule either method is a hard freeze, Dooher pointed out.

According to information from the Education Minnesota Web site, the average salary settlements have been a 0.77 percent increase in 2009-10 and 0.96 percent increase in 2010-11.

Minnesota's rank among the states in teacher pay has fallen from 16th in 2004-05 to 20th in 2008-09. The average teacher salary in the United States in 2008-09 was $54,333, and the average salary in Minnesota at that time was $51,938.

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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