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Teachers win arbitration ruling against Willmar Public Schools

WILLMAR - The Willmar School District may have to adjust the way it schedules some of its teachers under a state arbitration ruling filed this week.

The district could file an appeal in court. Otherwise, the arbitration ruling will stand.

Three elementary reading teachers filed a grievance over the way they were scheduled to test and monitor student progress in the district's Response to Intervention program in the 2012-13 school year.

The School Board denied the grievance in February, and the Education Minnesota union filed for arbitration on behalf of the teachers.

The teachers said that they were being assigned teaching duties in excess of the time allowed under their contracts. They were hired as part-time employees with contracts for 86 percent of a full-time job, and their hours for teaching load, general duty time and prep time were pro-rated.

They claimed that the testing and monitoring they did was part of their teaching load, but they were assigned to do it during their general duty time. The district contended the employees could be assigned as needed during their general duty time.

Arbitrator Harley Ogata said in his July 20 decision that the language in the Education Willmar contract led him to side with the teachers. He ordered the parties to negotiate a settlement that would compensate the teachers for the additional teaching time they were assigned in the past school year.

"We were not happy with the ruling, that's for sure," said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard in a telephone interview.

There's been no decision yet on whether to appeal, he said.

Education Minnesota representative Mark Schmiesing said the union agreed with the ruling and is working on the details of a settlement proposal. "That was our argument right from the beginning, that the contract should be read in this manner," he added.

General duty time is provided for teachers so that they are available to meet with students or parents or attend faculty meetings, according to the contract language.

The contract requires that part-time teachers be paid on a pro-rated scale of a full-time teacher's "student-related responsibilities."

The district argued that it had the right to assign other work to teachers during general duty, but Ogata said that the contract language limits the duties than can be assigned.

"It is clear to the arbitrator that testing and forms of progress monitoring have historically been a function of a teacher's role both generally and in this district," Ogata wrote in his ruling.

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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