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Teachers approve tentative agreement; School Board will consider agreement at Monday meeting

WILLMAR — Willmar’s teachers have approved a tentative agreement on a 2013-15 union contract with the Willmar School Board.

If the School Board approves the agreement at its Monday meeting, the two-year contract will be ratified and signed a little more than eight months before it expires.

Education Minnesota-Willmar members voted Thursday on the agreement, according to union president Tammy Knapper.

After a tense meeting in early September, the two sides met again on Sept. 25.

Drawn-out contract negotiations often come down to salary issues, but that wasn’t the case here. A settlement was delayed by disagreements about determining seniority and rules governing part-time teachers.

The issue of money was settled months ago, with the teachers receiving a 3 percent increase in the first year of the contract, which was the 2013-14 school year. The increase in the second year is 0.75 percent. The new contract also makes some changes to the steps-and-lanes salary schedule.

Title I teachers, who work under an hourly schedule will see raises of 3 percent in the first year and

3.75 percent in the second year.

Liz Fischer, director of human resources for the school district, said Education Minnesota returned with a proposal that was closer to the school district’s proposal on a new seniority system.

Since the proposals were closer, “we talked through it,” she said. “Each side made some small changes.”

Knapper said, “We worked together to compromise. … Both parties were to the point where we wanted to come to agreement. We wanted a settlement.”

Once the seniority issue was resolved, “the rest of it kind of fell into place,” Knapper said.

The new language will change how the district determines seniority and affects internal “bumping” procedures that would be used in the case of layoffs.

Fischer said the seniority issue was “a massive change” that both parties had been discussing for some time.

The old seniority system goes back years, to the time when vocational-technical school instructors were part of the school district, Knapper said. Seniority by department was developed to keep laid-off vo-tech teachers from bumping into high school jobs.

At that time, teacher licensing was less complicated, but the state has developed many more categories of licensure now, and many teachers are licensed in several areas, Knapper said.

The new system lists teachers based on their date of hire, but bumping rights will be more restrictive than state law. Teachers will be able to bump only into areas where they have taught in the past, not into any area of licensure. Current teachers will be grandfathered into the old bumping system for 10 years.

On the part-time teachers, the two sides differed on how to divide the time of part-time teachers during a school day. The district had proposed new contract language, but the teachers wanted to keep the existing rules.

In the end, Fischer said, the agreement includes new rules for teachers working half-time or less. Teachers working more than half-time will still work under the old rules.

“It was a 50-50 give on that one,” Fischer said.

It’s good for the teachers to have a contract after going without one for more than a year, Knapper said.

“It can be distracting for all the staff, going into the second year without a contract,” she said.

The district’s other collective bargaining units settled their contracts months ago. Fischer said the other groups are preparing to negotiate their next two-year contract, which would begin on July 1, 2015. Negotiations are likely to begin early next year.

The teachers are ready to start again soon, too, Knapper said.

“Our hope is trying to have the new contract settled before this one expires (on June 30, 2015),” she said. “It would be wonderful to have a settled contract when we start school next fall.”

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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