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Willmar board takes another step toward settling teacher contract

WILLMAR — The negotiations team for the Willmar School Board has new marching orders, a move the board is hoping will lead to a conclusion of nearly two years of contract negotiations with its teachers.

The board held an hour-long closed meeting to discuss negotiations strategy Wednesday during its regular meeting.

After the meeting, Chairman Jared Anez read a brief statement, saying the board had given direction to the negotiations team, "in the hopes of bringing a swift end to negotiations."

The board and Education Minnesota-Willmar have been negotiating the 2015-17 contract since April 2015. The previous contract expired June 30, 2015.

Last week, both sides said they felt they were closer to a settlement. However, at their last meeting, board negotiators had said they needed board authorization before they went forward.

The teachers rallied in front of the school before the board meeting Wednesday, and they were joined by representatives of other unions.

Also at the rally was Education Minnesota President Denise Specht. Willmar's contract is the last outstanding 2015-17 contract in the state, she said. The district was also one of the last for the two-year contract before that.

"Why does it take so long?" she said. "Why can't the district work things out with staff?"

Specht said the long delay can create unrest in the community. "There's a teacher shortage in MInnesota," she said. "Districts can't afford to be bad bosses, because teachers can work anywhere."

Specht said she has heard rumors that some teachers are looking for other jobs. "It doesn't have to be this way," she said. "They want this settled."

Two people also spoke to the board about the teacher contracts.

Annie Schaefbauer, a Willmar Senior High student, was joined by eight other students. Many were children of staff members.

Schaefbauer spoke about the importance of her teachers and their dedication to students. Students at the school have noticed their teachers wearing their blue union shirts or dressing in black on certain days, she said. They are worried about the morale of their teachers and also concerned that some of them may leave.

"We need and want them to feel comfortable," she said.

Melissa Dunlavy, a fifth-grade teacher at Roosevelt, said she and her children had attended Willmar schools, and her grandchildren will, too.

Her family is vested in the success of the schools, and "quality teachers are the foundation of quality schools," she said.

The teachers need a "fair and equitable contract" and a contract that honors its experienced teachers, Dunlavy said.

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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