NB teacher contracts in limbo

School Board chairwoman Kim Salo administered the oath of office to incoming board member Trent Johnson at the beginning of the meeting. Photo supplied

By MaryHelen Swanson—

You can’t miss them, whether at a high school basketball game or school board meeting. The teachers of North Branch Dist.138 are unified in their red T-shirts as negotiations continue for a contract settlement. The slogan on their shirts says “Education  Proud.”

“We’re not full of animosity,” said Chas Bettendorf, co-president of North Branch Education Association (NBEA), adding “we’re proud of the work we do in this district.”

Teacher contract negotiations moved to mediation last fall, but according to North Branch school board chairwoman Kim Salo, the teachers have requested to meet outside the process.

The last mediation session was Nov. 23, 2011.

Last week school board member Kirby Ekstrom reported that on Jan. 11, the teachers sent a new proposal to the school board chairwoman. He also noted that the NBEA had been asked to send any proposal directly to the mediator.

Salo said this week that the school board intends to stick to the mediation process, adding that as of Tuesday, Jan. 17, the mediator had not set up another session date. But the school district is not under a deadline as the former Jan. 15 date has been eliminated.

Salo said she believes the board has been forthright and considerate of the teachers. She said it was hard at the open microphone portion of the school board meeting last week to not be able to respond to teachers who took the opportunity to speak on behalf of their peers.

At the mike

Speaking at the open forum last Thursday was Sunrise Elementary second grade teacher Carmel Murphy. She has been a teacher in the district for 16 years. She said the children should be the number one investment. She reminded the board members that most of the teachers have Master’s degrees and many spend their own money buying things for their classrooms.

She implored the board to go back to negotiations and do better to make a fair offer to the teachers.

Tom Moriarty, high school art teacher and coach of 38 years, reminded all that “team” is we and not I. He was asking for a fair settlement equal to the neighboring school districts. (Rush City teachers’ recent contract settlement included a 1.5 percent salary increase each year of the two-year contract. Pine City has also settled with the teachers.)

Spanish teacher Jan Kozlovsky also moved to the podium where she spoke briefly saying North Branch needs a good salary schedule, again noting that neighboring districts have a better one.

She is completing her 26th year in North Branch and 40 years in teaching.

This week, Bettendorf, not wishing to go too much into the details of the negotiations because the process is still underway, said the idea is to come to an agreement both the teachers and school board can live with.

He noted that without the Jan. 15 deadline, there is less push to resolve contracts. With the deadline came a penalty for not settling contracts on time and no district wanted to have to face that, he said.

About the negotiation process, Bettendorf said, “it’s always been give and take and we’ve been pleased.”

He went on saying at NB they have always had good competitive contracts that attract good teachers.

The NBEA made a proposal last week and learned at the school board meeting that they went about it in the wrong way (giving it to the school board chairman and not to the mediator).

“So we quickly remedied that,” Bettendorf said. He added that now they wait to hear back from the board.

He said there is no hiding the fact the North Branch school district is in a difficult position, with the lack of proper funding. The proposal, he said, is just where the teachers would like to be at, as most everyone else would like.

But he added there has always been give and take.

And so everyone waits.

The NBEA will continue to show a sign of unity, Bettendorf said, and support each other.

Neither the school board nor the NBEA wishes to disclose any further details of the negotiations at this time.

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