Perham-A unanimous vote by the Perham-Dent School Board to approve a contract with the teacher’s union is a step in the right direction toward equalizing new teachers’ pay.

The district will now be able to offer quality teachers a salary that is competitive with surrounding schools, lessening the salary gap between Perham and other nearby districts, according to Mitch Anderson, Perham-Dent’s superintendent.

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“At a starting salary of $33,000, (Perham-Dent’s) was the lowest in the area,” Anderson said. “Both sides agreed that (new teacher pay) was the area that needed our attention.”

The contract increases first- and second-year teacher salaries to $35,000, up $2,500, retroactive to Sept. 1, he said, adding that encompasses only a couple of new teachers.

While there are several teachers new to the district, they have taught in other schools prior to joining Perham-Dent, and aren’t classified as first-year educators, he explained.

The contract also gives an increase of $1,500 to teachers who have been with the district three or more years for the next two years, when a new contract will be negotiated. 

In settling the contract, Anderson said negotiators made a departure from the typical percentage-based strategy because of the pay gap between Perham schools and area districts. New teachers would have seen a smaller increase than veteran educators, creating another ever-widening gap among district teachers, as well as area school districts.

The school board also approved an increase of $50 this year and next, to go toward teachers’ benefit packages. Previously the district paid $465; it will pay $515 this year and $565 the following year.

Finally, the district condensed its pay schedule from 25 steps (or years) to 15.

What happened with the 25-step system, Anderson said, was a five-year period during which teachers didn’t see an increase in their salaries. While they could earn their graduate-level degree during that time and increase their salary that way, it was at their expense, he said.

Also negotiated with the teachers’ contract was a 3 percent increase for learning readiness and Area Learning Center teachers, coaches and advisors.

The final contract to be negotiated is with the Minnesota School Employees staff, which includes support staff, cooks, cleaners, custodians, paraprofessionals, secretaries and sign-language interpreters.

Because school principals and Anderson, also up for increases, are not members of a union, the school board will negotiate with each one individually.