Moorhead mediation requested
For the first time in at least two decades, Moorhead teachers and their district are resorting to outside help to settle educator contracts. After making little headway during eight meetings, negotiations hit a dead-end this week, on the eve of a...
For the first time in at least two decades, Moorhead teachers and their district are resorting to outside help to settle educator contracts.
After making little headway during eight meetings, negotiations hit a dead-end this week, on the eve of an $850-per-pupil levy vote Tuesday. The teachers group, Education Moorhead, requested help from the state's Bureau of Mediation Services.
District negotiators have insisted on a hard freeze: no seniority, cost-of-living or benefit increases over the next two years. Teachers are asking for a 2.5 percent raise the first year and 1 percent the second in addition to seniority increases.
"Our proposals just aren't coming really close together," said Jeff Offutt, the local teachers union head. "They want to be good stewards of the public's money, and we want to do the best we can for our members."
It's a tough negotiation season across the state, where school funding will remain flat in the next couple of years. The Bureau of Mediation Services states that about 90 districts have gone into mediation so far, including Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls and Rothsay.
That's roughly the same number as at this point in teacher salary negotiations two years ago. In 2005, that number was 31; in 2003, it was 17.
"The districts that have been settling have settled for next to nothing," said Greg Abbott of the Minnesota School Boards Association. "It's been 0 percent-0 percent or 1-1. It's been very slim because there's no money."
In Moorhead, Assistant Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak, the lead negotiator for the district, said successful passage of Tuesday's levy alone won't keep the district from plunging into the red. Moorhead cut $4.5 million from its budget last spring.
"We can't simply rely on treating the revenue side of the equation without addressing our expenses," he said. "We can't continue with the salary and benefit increases of recent years."
Factoring in steps, lanes and benefit increases into the teacher's proposal, the overall compensation hike would amount to roughly 9 percent spread over two years, Kazmierczak said.
The average teacher salary in Moorhead is about $54,000, or $72,000 including benefits.
Offutt refrained from discussing the competing proposals. But he pointed out teachers, like all area residents, contend with rising bills for gas, food and, potentially, school taxes, though "that would be a bill I'd be more than happy to pay." The union has come out in support of the levy.
In D-G-F, the district has offered a 1 percent cost-of-living increase the first year and a soft freeze, with only seniority increases the year after that, Superintendent Randy Bruer said. Teachers have asked for 2 percent and 3 percent increases.
"It's just difficult to give something that you don't have in the bank," Bruer said.
The BMS mediator will schedule the next negotiations meetings in Moorhead and D-G-F. Districts in the state have until Jan. 15 to settle.
"We recognize we have a good staff; we have good people working really hard for us," Kazmierczak said. "We simply are facing a new economic reality."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529