Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, called for the Crosby-Ironton School Board and district teachers to submit to binding arbitration to resolve the three-week-old teachers' strike.
"It's time to end this before the community is so divided that it will take generations to heal the wounds," Koering said Wednesday from his St. Paul office.
Citing an overwhelming number of phone calls and e-mails on the subject, Koering said most of his constituents want the children to return to school and the strike to end. Koering said he's received about 100 messages on the strike and anytime a lawmaker receives 10 or more, it gets a lawmaker's attention.
"The community is being ripped apart," he said. "It's time to end this. It's time to end it now."
Sen. Paul Koering says two sides too far apart to end strike on their own.
He wrote letters Wednesday to both parties informing them of his call for binding arbitration.
"Lord only knows how long this could go on," Koering said. "We need to end this now. We need to end it quickly and we need to get back to the business of educating children."
The first-term lawmaker said the two sides are so far apart he doesn't think they can resolve it without binding arbitration.
"You can tell him to forget that," Stan Nagorski, teachers' union president, said Wednesday. "We got burned a couple of years ago (in binding arbitration)."
Both sides in the labor dispute would have to agree to binding arbitration and to its format. Nagorski said the teachers would not agree to it.
"We have offered that to the teachers and they have not accepted it, but we are still willing to go to arbitration," said C-I Superintendent Linda Lawrie. "We really want our teachers back in the classroom."
Darrell Baty, a field staff member for Education Minnesota, said typically, when unions go out on strike, they don't return to arbitration. He suggested that an arbitrator's decision could take as long as three months with the first month being spent on setting up the process.
"We don't think it's a fair playing field," he said.
The marquee on the First National Bank of Crosby delivered one message to those involved in the teachers' strike, which entered its 23rd day Thursday. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Baty said the school board proposed binding arbitration some time ago but would not agree to two stipulations the teachers insisted upon.
First, the teachers said that retiree health insurance was a mandatory issue for bargaining, Baty said. Second, the teachers called for the district to acknowledge it had money with which it could settle the contract.
Scott Kile, school board chair, said the school district has indicated its willingness to go to arbitration as recently as last week.
"We have offered arbitration, but it's so final," Kile said. "I don't believe the union is even close to arbitration."
Baty said the teachers' union wasn't aware of that most recent offer. He said the format of the arbitration also would have to be agreed upon by the school board and the striking teachers.
Kile said there is the possibility of settling the strike without binding arbitration.
"But the district has gone as far as it can go on any package," Kile said. "There's simply no more money left."
Kile said the school board would meet in a closed session at 6:30 p.m. Monday at a location that hasn't been decided upon yet.
MIKE O'ROURKE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.
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