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Teacher negotiations resume

Teachers, school board try to resolve contract impasse

Andrea Johnson/MDN Minot Education Association negotiator Bill Irmen, at right, outlines a point to Minot school board negotiatiors on Wednesday during teacher contract negotiations. The two sides met to try to resolve an impasse. At left are board negotiators Mark Lyman, a board member, business manager Scott Moum, and board member Laura Mihalick. At right are MEA negotiators Irmen, Lisa Wolf, and Amy Neal.

Negotiators from the Minot Public School Board and the Minot Education Association met Wednesday afternoon to try to resolve an impasse in teacher contract negotiations.

The state Education Factfinding Commission issued a recommendation to the two sides on Tuesday that includes a recommendation that the board increase the base teacher salary by $100. A hearing on the impasse was held last week.

At the negotiating session on Wednesday, board negotiators said they were amenable to the recommendations made by the factfinding commission, while members of the MEA had some questions regarding a sick leave policy and a grievance policy.

“This seems like a mountain when we used to have a molehill,” MEA negotiator Bill Irmen remarked of the factfinding commission’s proposed catastrophic sick leave bank. Sick leave in the district has been a major point of contention. Teachers wanted to use some of their available paid leave days for the illness of an adult child as well as for other family members and the school board had resisted. The factfinding commission had proposed the catastrophic leave bank as an alternative. Teachers who want to participate would donate one of their personal leave days to the bank, which would be available for use if an adult child has a catastrophic illness.

Teachers also questioned whether the board wanted to adopt the factfinding commission’s recommendation wholesale or if there was still room to negotiate.

“We’re willing to have some wiggle room,” said Mark Lyman, a board member and a negotiator for the school board. “What do you want to wiggle on?”

By the end of the meeting, the board negotiators presented teachers with another proposal to consider. The latest board proposal adopts the factfinding commission’s recommendation to increase salary by $100 and to honor the existing salary schedule and allow teachers to move up on the schedule with additional education and experience. District business manager and school board negotiator Scott Moum estimated the cost to the district of the new proposal at $1.18 million, or a 2.19 percent increase. Salary had been a sticking point. The teachers’ last proposal was a $600 increase on the base salary, while the board had agreed to no salary increase, citing the district’s budget deficit.

The district’s sick leave policy had also been a bone of contention. Teachers want to use existing sick leave days to take care of an adult child not on their health insurance as well as for other family members; the district negotiators had resisted that suggestion.

In their latest proposal, the board negotiators propose adopting the factfinding commission’s recommendation to implement the formation and implementation of a district-wide catastophic leave time bank for the catastophic illness or injury of an employee’s adult child or stepchild over age 21. Employees who make use of the catastrophic leave time bank would be required to donate one of their personal leave days during an open enrollment period. If the bank becomes exhausted between Oct. 1 of one school year and Sept. 30 of the next school year, it would remain empty until the next open enrollment period. The district would grant an initial deposit of 21 days into the bank for the next school year.

To be eligible to use the sick leave bank, a teacher would have to have exhausted all of their other available paid leave days, would have to submit a written request to the human resource director for use of the leave from the bank, provide medical certification, if requested by the district, and could not exceed more than seven days of catastrophic leave in any 12 month period.

The board negotiators also propose adopting the factfinding commission’s recommendation to implement an administrative regulation regarding formation of a committee to look at safety issues in the school district. The committee would be made up of an equal number of people appointed by the school district and by the MEA.

The two sides agreed to meet again on Friday at 12:30 p.m. to continue negotiating.

They have 20 days after receiving the report to arrive at an agreement. If they fail to do so, the factfinding commission will publish the entire report in the Minot Daily News along with an explanation of why negotiations failed and whom they believe to be at fault.

The recommendation is not binding; the school board can impose a contract on teachers.

Voters approve

publication

Nearly 90 percent of patrons of the Minot school district voted to approve continued publication of school board minutes in the newspaper of record, the Minot Daily News. The vote was 5,340 to 628.

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