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Luverne, Windom settle teacher contracts near deadline

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Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

LUVERNE -- The Luverne School District went down to the wire to approve a new two-year teacher contract, reaching a compromise Monday afternoon. Contracts not settled by Tuesday would have resulted in a state-imposed penalty of $25 per student -- or $32,000 for District 2184.

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Superintendent Gary Fisher said the total package, including teacher salaries, PERA, FICA and health insurance will amount to about an 8.5 percent increase. Of that, teachers will see a 2.3 percent increase in their salary each year of the two-year contract.

The Luverne School District had been negotiating with its education association since September, said Fisher. In recent weeks, the groups went through two mediation sessions to help bring them closer together.

"This was the last offer (8.5 percent) that the district had proposed to the teachers," said Fisher, adding that the teachers were requesting "a little bit more than that."

Still, Fisher said the settled contract should be pretty similar to those approved in other districts.

"I think we're in the ballpark of where the settlements have come in this year," he added. "Personally, I feel it was a win-win situation for the district and the teachers. I'm just glad it's done."

Doug Froke, Windom Area Schools Superintendent, shared those sentiments after school board members accepted a two-year contract with its teachers in a special meeting Tuesday morning.

Froke said the contract consists of an 8.3 percent total-package settlement, or approximately $368,913. The package entails salary increases, taxes, retirement compensation and co-curriculars.

Also written into the contract is the designation of $100,000 of staff development funds toward the mission of the district. Windom school board member Steve Norby said the funds, derived from 2 percent of the general revenue budget, will not be used to fund salaries, but will instead be placed in the general fund.

"That's one thing that helped us to come to the agreement, to have access to those additional dollars," said Norby. "That cooperation (by the teachers) allowed us to settle -- it really helped us to come to a final agreement."

In exchange for the $100,000 in staff development funds in the first year of the contract, the district put safeguards in place to protect staff development funding, although perhaps at a reduced amount, during the 2006-2007 school year even if the district were to go into statutory operating debt (SOD).

During the first year of the contract, Windom teachers will get a .37 percent increase in salary, which is added to the step increases -- and the health insurance benefits -- that teachers received at the beginning of the 2005-2006 school year. For the 2006-2007 school year, teachers will see a 2.02 percent salary increase.

Froke said issues with contract language caused negotiations to last longer than anticipated. They began working on a new contract in September, completing several sessions with a mediator on the way to reaching an agreement.

"Obviously, when you run up against the state-imposed deadline, you could say it took longer than both parties thought it would," Froke said. The Windom district would have been assessed a $25,000 fee had it not met Tuesday's deadline.

"As a member of the negotiating team, we were very pleased to come to an agreement with our union before the deadline," said Norby.

"In the end, we got a deal that both the teachers and the district could live with, and we go on," added Froke.

According to a story published by The Associated Press Tuesday, a dozen of the state's 341 school districts were still negotiating with teachers as the midnight deadline approached. Those districts included Deer River, Eveleth-Gilbert, Glencoe-Silver Lake, Kelliher, Lincoln, Littlefork-Big Falls, Menahga, Red Lake, Rushford-Peterson, St. Louis County, South Koochiching-Rainy River and West St. Paul.

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