Willmar board, teachers reach tentative agreement on 2015-17 contract
WILLMAR — Willmar Public Schools teachers and the School Board have reached a tentative contract settlement after nearly two years of negotiations.
The final negotiating session took place on the auditorium stage at the Willmar Education and Arts Center, with more than 80 members of the union and the public in attendance. The crowd applauded and cheered when the agreement was reached.
If teachers and board members vote in the coming weeks to approve the agreement, the district will have settled the last of its 2015-17 employment contracts. The contracts expire on June 30. Willmar teachers are the last in the state to settle.
Some other district bargaining units have already signaled their readiness to begin negotiating their 2017-19 contracts.
In the tentative agreement, the district agreed to a salary package with a $1.43 million total cost. That provides teachers an overall 2 percent increase in the first year of the contract and a 1 percent increase in the second. In addition, they will move up to the next experience level on the salary scale.
The board and the union have been negotiating the 2015-17 contract since April 2015. The previous contract expired June 30, 2015, and teachers have been working under that contract since then.
The two sides have signed tentative agreements on language issues but have been unable to agree on salaries.
After the two-hour meeting to reach a final agreement Monday, union president Tammy Knapper, a teacher at Willmar Senior High School, said it was a huge relief to be finished, "although we get to start again soon."
Knapper said she believed the process was drawn out by having the school district's attorney acting as lead negotiator for the board.
"We believe the district should consult their attorney, just as we consult our attorney, but not at the table," she said. "He doesn't have a stake in Willmar Public Schools" like board members do.
Superintendent Jeff Holm said he was happy to have a settlement. "I hope the teachers vote to approve, and we can turn the page and move forward from here."
Holm said, too, that he wanted to see the board explore different approaches to negotiations, "so we aren't sitting here two years from now going through the exact same things."
Board Chairman Jared Anez said he thought it was good for the district and staff to move beyond the negotiations.
"Our district has so many positive things going on, and it gives us more chance to talk about those things," he said. "The community is behind us in a lot of ways, there's a lot of new investments, and we want that to be our focus."
Holm said the School Board has made good on its wish last fall to be sure all employees received raises following $2.7 million in budget cuts in recent years.
"I think the board was very generous in this offer, and I hope it's viewed that way," he said.
Negotiators from both sides said they were generally satisfied with the settlement, though neither side got everything they wanted.