Teacher negotiations begin

MEA, Minot school board negotiators trade contract proposals

A year after contract negotiations went to impasse and the Minot Public School Board imposed a contract on teachers, the two sides are negotiating again.

Last week, both sides agreed to negotiate in good faith. Business Manager Scott Moum told the teachers that the school district is in a better financial position that it had been last year and there is more money available for salary increases.

Negotiators for the board and the Minot Education Association met for a second time at 6:30 a.m. Monday in front of a room crowded with teacher members from the MEA and traded initial contract proposals.

The MEA proposes a two-year contract, with an $1,800 increase to the base salary for a beginning teacher in 2019-2020. That would bring the base salary to $41,250. They propose an $1,800 increase to the base salary for a beginning teacher in 2020-2021, bringing the base salary up to $43,050.

“We decided this year to more redirect our focus on money,” said Lisa Wolf, an MEA negotiator.

Wolf said MEA members were surveyed prior to negotiations beginning and, in addition to money, are also still concerned about issues brought up during the impasse hearing last year. They still want to be able to use their sick leave to care for an adult child who has a serious illness and they are still extremely concerned about safety issues in the schools.

Wolf said the negotiators want the school board to know that these continue to be issues even if they have not been raised in teacher negotiations this year. A safety committee has been meeting to discuss safety issues in the schools, including the potential of an active shooting scenario and threats and aggression by students against teachers and fellow students. Wolf said a third issue raised by MEA members is threats of physical violence made by parents of students against teachers. Some parents of students have also slandered teachers on social media and in the community. Teachers are not able to respond to the parents because of student privacy laws. Wolf said the school district has a policy in place for how to respond to threats but she doesn’t think it has been followed. She wants the safety committee to also consider threats made by parents.

MEA negotiator Bill Irmen said health insurance premiums have also taken a significant bite out of teacher salaries in the past several years. He said someone who has a health insurance plan has seen out of pocket costs rise by about $800 since 2015 but the district only raised the base salary for a beginning teacher by $100 the last two years.

The MEA proposes freezing the contributions made by both employer and employee to the health insurance premium for the next two years “to try to stop the bleeding a little bit, I guess, on our side, “ said Irmen.

In addition, the teachers want to include a domestic partner or any other relative permanently residing in a household to the list of relatives for whom a teacher may take funeral leave or use sick leave. Currently, they can take leave to care for a spouse, parents, dependents, or children or stepchildren under age 21. Wolf said times have changed and more people are living together rather than getting married. Those teachers regard the live-in partner as just as significant as a spouse, she said.

The school board countered with its own first proposal.

The board proposes a two-year contract, with the base salary increasing by $1,000 in 2019-2020 and by $1,200 in 2020-2021.

They also propose to reduce the employer share of the Health Savings Account contribution beginning on Jan. 1, 2020. School board negotiators want to limit leave taken by teachers to raise children. Under the board’s proposal, teachers could only take leave for a child under the age of seven and would not be able to use the leave to explore other career options.

Moum said the board would not want to include “domestic partners” in the list of relatives for whom a teacher could use sick leave or funeral leave. He said it would be too hard to define a domestic partner and North Dakota doesn’t recognize common law marriages.

Moum, who is also the lead negotiator for the school board, estimated the additional cost of the school board’s proposal to taxpayers at $2.12 million in the first year of the contract and $2.36 million in the second year of the contract.

A third negotiating session is scheduled for tonight at 8 p.m. at the school district administration building.