As the negotiations chairperson, I would like to clarify some of the facts of our most recent negotiations session and arbitration that has led to the lowest teacher contract settlement in the state of Minnesota. Any new teacher in our district will now receive the second lowest starting salary in Minnesota.
After many years of less-than-average settlements accepted by our staff to help out the floundering financial condition of our district, we approached this session with some optimism. The Legislature is finally funding education at a better level than during the financial hard times of the Governor Carlson administration. We believed we had reasons to be optimistic. We are in the midst of changing economic times: prices are rising and conditions seemed to be favorable for an adequate settlement.
On Dec. 27, with the arbitration deadline approaching, we reluctantly agreed to arbitration. Our thought was that we were getting closer to a settlement and we could save the district a loss of revenue because of the Jan. 15 deadline. Continuing negotiations would cost a penalty of $45,000 for the district. On Dec. 27 the school board had an offer of $409,000 on the table.
Believing arbitration to be our best option for a settlement and to avoid the state-imposed penalty and to avert a possible strike, we agreed to arbitration. We trusted our school board; we did not anticipate that they would lower its offer. Also, we thought the arbitrator would have some insight that the continued poor financial condition of the district should not be the responsibility of only the teaching staff. In most districts, school boards and teachers continue to negotiate while waiting for the arbitration hearing. We would have continued to negotiate; our school board said it no longer had a need to meet with us.
We then discovered that the board members had hired an expensive attorney ($150 an hour) at a projected cost of $15,000 -- $20,000 to represent them. Shortly before the arbitration hearing, we saw their final position. We were shocked to see their last offer cut almost by one-half. They also added two steps to the salary schedule, something that had never been brought to the negotiations table and something strongly opposed by the teachers. A new procedure of double-counting money, (adding the first year raise to the second-year raise), was used. This, along with step increases already in place, was used to report their position as if it were an offer of 6.02 per cent.
Following the accepted standard utilized by most other districts in the state, the school board position represents a total package of 4.83 per cent. This includes extra-curricular, all insurance, step increases, and is based on the teachers currently in the district. Even the figures of the school board do not approach the state average of approximately 10 to 12 per cent.
The real picture should indicate that 85 of our 108 teachers will take a cut in pay. The salary schedule increases should show an average of .74 percent and .85 percent increases in their respective years. Because of the board's distribution of unequal amounts of money on the salary schedule, they have created additional concerns, some of which were major issues in the last two negotiations sessions. Even the arbitrator noticed this district schedule was unconventional.
Many teachers suffer a serious decrease of income. A veteran teacher gets a first year raise of $950 but with family insurance,
$1,435 will be deducted, showing a pay reduction of $485. In the second year, the raise of $950 will be offset by an additional insurance cost of $2,349. This will be a pay cut of $1,884 or a 2.8 per cent decrease. In summary, this teacher will take a pay cut of $1,884 or go backwards 3.9 per cent from the previous contract.
While this is only one position on the salary schedule, the average teacher who has family insurance would pay $296 more for health insurance that he/she would receive in pay increase for the 1999-2000 contract. In 2000-2001 the average teacher would pay $1,233 more for health insurance than he/she would receive for a pay raise. We would have been better off staying with our old contract.
We went into this bargaining session with good faith and trust that the board would do the fair thing. Was this good-faith bargaining? Will this maintain a quality staff? Will this attract new entry level teachers? Definitely not!
The news of this settlement has tarnished the image of Crosby-Ironton Schools throughout the state.
(Nagorski is a teacher in the Crosby-Ironton School District and negotiations chairperson for the teachers' union.)
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