PINE RIVER -- With only three hours to spare, the Pine River-Backus School District and its teachers reached a contract settlement Tuesday that saved the district $36,000 in state fines, or a $25-per-student penalty.
Superintendent Randal Eckart said today that teachers asked to meet with district negotiators at 6 p.m. Tuesday to discuss a settlement.
Around 8:30 p.m., teachers voted 53 to 7 to accept the district's proposal of a 4 percent wage increase this year and a 3.5 percent wage increase for the 2000-2001 school year, or an 8.7 percent total package increase for both years.
At 9 p.m. Tuesday, just hours before the state's settlement deadline at midnight, the school board called an emergency meeting and ratified the contract settlement.
"We're very happy," said Scott Sater, president of the Pine River-Backus Education Association. "We're relieved we're all settled and ratified."
Sater said the settlement is a 1 percent higher increase received this year compared to other districts the size of Pine River-Backus, but is at an average salary with those schools. While most teachers were happy with the settlement, some were concerned about insurance coverage issues, he said.
"Absolutely," said Eckart, when asked if he was happy an agreement was reached. "I think it's a good thing that we did this and maintained that $36,000."
Elsewhere around the state, as many as six out of the state's 347 school districts did not make the midnight deadline. Based on districts that have already settled, the average two-year salaries per teacher are expected to rise 3.9 percent and 3.7 percent statewide, according to figures the union provided. Union officials said salary increases averaged about 2.5 percent per year in the last several contract periods.
Some lawmakers complain that those figures don't account for benefit packages, which put this year's increases close to double digits. Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration has been critical of teacher raises, which officials say have outpaced general education funding increases.
Minnesota's average teacher salary in 1999 was $39,458, up from $30,060 in 1989. Education Minnesota, the state's largest teachers' union, said the state dropped from 16th to 20th in teacher pay over that span.
This story contains information supplied by The Associated Press.
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