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Perham-Dent teachers agree to 2-year pay freeze

The Perham-Dent School District and teachers reached an agreement last week on a two-year contract which freezes salaries the next two years.

Perham Education Association, which represents the teachers, agreed to a salary freeze for two years at amounts from the 2008-09 school year, this according to information released by the school district.

The teachers also accepted a freeze for 2009-10 on step advancement for their teaching experience. The school district agreed to place teachers on their correct experience step on the salary schedule for 2010-11, but without payment of any deferred compensation for dollars lost due to the step freeze in 2009-10.

Benefits, including district payment toward health insurance premiums, retiree insurance, severance, and number of teacher leave days were all frozen.

The settlement included a 0 percent salary increase in both 2009-10 and 2010-11. This compares with statewide average salary schedule improvement to date of 1.03 percent for this year and 1.16 percent for next year, according to Education Minnesota.

District cost increases as per the settlement, including step advancement in the second year of the agreement, total 0.85 percent the first year and 1.64 percent the second year. This compares with statewide total settlement costs to date of 1.96 percent for this year and 2.64 percent for next year, according to Education Minnesota.

"Both parties were pleased to have finalized the agreement without the need for assistance from a state- appointed mediator," commented David Knudsen, lead negotiator for the teachers.

Also very important to both sides was having reached an amicable agreement prior to the state of Minnesota's Jan. 15, 2010 deadline. Extending talks beyond that date would have meant a loss of more than $30,000 to the school district in a state-imposed penalty, according to Superintendent Tamara Uselman.

David Schornack, spokesperson for the district negotiations team, thanked teachers for their ability to accept a contract that froze salary numbers at current levels. "It's unprecedented, really, for an agreement to keep the old numbers in place for three years. We are thankful to teachers for working with the district for this settlement during a tough economy."

The two groups voted to ratify the agreement this past week.

The Perham-Dent School Board took the position of "hard freeze" early in the negotiations. Negotiators filed for mediation, along with a number of other area Minnesota districts which enlisted outside help to break stalemates in teacher contract negotiations.

Last spring, Minnesota froze school aid for the next two years and delayed some payments, setting off an especially tough round of negotiations. Education Minnesota, the teacher's union, cautioned against hurting morale by balancing budgets at the expense of teachers.

Statewide, about 150 districts requested mediation services, including 56 in November alone, the most in that month since 1993, according to the Bureau of Mediation Services.

(Some contract agreement information provided by a joint committee of Perham Education Association and Perham-Dent School District negotiators.)

No contract reached yet in Mills

The teachers and New York Mills School District are still negotiating a contract and have not yet reached an agreement. An organizational meeting for the school board is Monday with an update on negotiations expected. Mediation is set for Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 9 a.m. unless an agreement is reached before then.

The district offered a soft freeze the first year, meaning the teachers would get their step or year of experience on the salary schedule and a hard freeze the second year, meaning no step advancement.

The teachers have requested a 1 percent salary increase each year of the two-year contract.

School districts are required to meet a Jan. 15 deadline or face fines by the state.