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New Willmar School Board members hope teacher contract settled by January

WILLMAR -- Newly elected members of the Willmar School Board say they are hopeful that a teacher contract can be settled before they take office in January, and they are looking forward to being involved in the opening of a new school later this ...

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Scott Thaden

WILLMAR - Newly elected members of the Willmar School Board say they are hopeful that a teacher contract can be settled before they take office in January, and they are looking forward to being involved in the opening of a new school later this year.

Justin Bos, Mike Reynolds, Scott Thaden and Tammy Barnes were elected to four-year terms from a field of six candidates on Nov. 8. Bos and Reynolds are incumbents. Thaden and Barnes, both former teachers, will be newcomers to the School Board.

Other candidates in the election were incumbent Jackie Saulsbury and Brian Kath.

Negotiations between the board and Education Minnesota-Willmar have been going on since April 2015. The current contract expired at the end of June 2015. This week, both sides said they were waiting for the other to propose a new date for negotiations.

The School Board plans to spell out its financial position at a workshop meeting at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 28 at the Willmar Education and Arts Center.

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Barnes, who is a union representative for the education union Education Minnesota, said she hopes to see the two sides meet face-to-face soon. "I would love to see the settlement done before I get there, but it's really not in my hands."

Barnes said she works for the union but has never handled Willmar's contract negotiations. Neither has she been involved in any office discussions regarding the Willmar contract.

Barnes said she is looking forward to working with other board members to do what's best for the children in the district.

Thaden, an agriculturalist with Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville, said he's been meeting with Superintendent Jeff Holm and has spoken with some staff members about issues in the district, including the contract negotiations.

"I'm looking forward to seeing and experiencing the new elementary school and the process of opening that school," he said. He is also interested in looking at ways to alleviate crowding issues in other parts of the district.

The new elementary school will reduce crowding and will provide better scheduling for lunch periods at all three elementary schools.

Bos, a funeral director at Peterson Brothers Funeral Home, joined the board earlier this year after a special election in May. "One of the most important issues is to find a way to get that (contract) settled, and make sure the building projects stay on track," he said.

Bos said he was glad to have a chance to continue on the board, because he feels he still has more to learn about the district.

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Reynolds, a longtime board member re-elected last week, said he is optimistic the negotiations will be concluded by January, "but I can only control one side of the action."

Reynolds is on the board's negotiating committee. He said he knows teachers are frustrated by the long negotiations, and some feel their work is not appreciated.

"That's not at all how we feel about them," he said. "We want them to be happy." However, the board needs to keep the settlement within certain parameters to protect the long-term financial health of the district, he said. After participating in 10 teacher contract negotiations in his time on the board, this has been the most difficult, he added.

Reynolds said he's looking forward to the coming year and the next four years. "Something about a new school is exciting," he said."I'm excited for the future."

He is the only member of the board who was serving when the district opened its last new building - Willmar Senior High School in 1994.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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