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School Board denies teacher grievance in hopes arbitration will resolve issue

WILLMAR — In an effort to clarify how a contract provision is interpreted, the Willmar School Board has denied a teacher grievance so it can move on to arbitration.

The board voted at its meeting last week to deny teacher Robert Flegel's grievance that he was underpaid for teaching an extra course for the first semester of the school year.

Flegel, a science teacher at Willmar Senior High School, claimed in the grievance that the district had underpaid him about $700 for four days the teaching staff was on duty but did not have student contact.

The district's ongoing contract with Education Minnesota-Willmar calls for a high school teacher taking on an "overload" of classes to be paid an additional one-third of his or her annual salary.

Since Flegel taught for a half year, he was to be paid one-sixth of his salary, said union representative Libby Erickson.

Erickson said he had instead been paid for only the student contact days, which amounted to a loss of pay for him.

Teachers at the high school usually teach three courses a day in a schedule that has four blocks of class time in a day. The fourth block is split between prep time and other duties.

When a teacher agrees to teach a fourth class, the teacher increases the number of students taught in a day and the amount of prep time needed while losing prep time during the workday, Erickson said.

Flegel and the union interpreted the contract to say that the additional pay would be for all teacher contract days during that semester. The district's administration has interpreted the language to apply to days with student contact.

"If you look at it the way administration views it, he is being fairly compensated," said board member Mike Reynolds.

"It comes down to interpretation," added board member Justin Bos. "I don't think the language is clear."

Board member Linda Mathiasen said the board could face an ongoing issue of interpretation over the issue, and she made a motion to let the issue move on to arbitration for a ruling on the interpretation. Reynolds was the only board member to vote against it.

"I think we need to clear this up," he said. Bos and board Chairwoman Liz VanDerBill said they thought it ought to be addressed during contract negotiations, too.

There was no discussion of the cost of arbitration.

In other business, the board approved a contract with Willmar Electric Service to replace switching gear at Kennedy Elementary School next summer at a cost of $140,000.

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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