Unions Flustered About Contracts

With the January 15 deadline to negotiate teacher contracts now gone, teacher unions are going nuts! From the Sun Post;

Beth Schultz, a kindergarten teacher at Earle Brown Elementary in Brooklyn Center, was scheduled to complete her master’s degree March 1. Normally teachers get raises when they finish advanced degrees. But Schultz doesn’t know if or when she’ll see that money. “My (students) are benefiting, but I’m not getting the recognition of financial compensation from that,” she said.

Like teachers in nearly half the school districts in Minnesota, Schultz has been working without a contract for eight months and counting. Because the state legislature last year eliminated the deadline for school districts to settle teacher contracts, there’s no sure end in sight. “I’m frustrated,” Schultz said. “I feel like we deserve a fair contract.”

And what would a fair contract be? Removing a deadline doesn’t mean a contract is unfair!

Teacher contracts, which are negotiated every two years, expired at the end of June. In the past, districts faced a financial penalty if they didn’t settle by Jan. 15. But not this year. According to Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, about 47 percent of the 338 districts in the state had not settled contracts as of Feb. 14, about a month after the usual deadline.

Schultz, a member of the negotiating team for the Brooklyn Center teachers union, was one of 47 teachers who came to the Feb. 13 board meeting to encourage board members to settle a contract soon. Brooklyn Center teachers aren’t the only ones trying to make their voices heard. As a sign of unity, nearly 500 teachers in the Minnetonka School District met school board members as they arrived at a work session Feb. 24.

Not surprisingly, Education Minnesota opposed the elimination of the negotiations deadline. In a Jan. 18 statement, the group’s president, Tom Dooher, called for its reinstatement. “When contract negotiations drag on, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the community,” he said.

Ahh, poor Mr. Dooher! Did you lose your leverage over districts and by definition the taxpayers? It’s funny how Education Minnesota wants local control yet they want an artificial deadline that benefits them!

But the Minnesota School Boards Association terms the Jan. 15 deadline artificial and says it makes negotiations unfair. “What the Jan. 15 deadline has done for years is really tilt the negotiations in favor of the teachers union,” said Greg Abbott, spokesperson for the school boards association.

Yes!

Minnetonka Supt. Dennis Peterson agrees. “I think during these difficult times, for most school districts across the state of Minnesota, having the deadline taken away has been helpful in the whole process, because it created an artificial climate for negotiations,” Peterson said. Abbott said penalizing districts for missing the deadline hurt students more than anyone.

And we thought Education Minnesota only cared about the children!

Abbot also said it was sometimes difficult for districts to meet the Jan. 15 deadline because of uncertainty regarding their financial positions. Last year that challenge was exacerbated by the state government shutdown. According to Abbott, many districts didn’t negotiate during the summer because of the uncertainty.

“You can’t promise money if you don’t know if you’re going to get anything,” he said. Even in the absence of a government shutdown, school districts often don’t finalize the next school year’s budget until the end of June.

Brooklyn Center School Board Chair Cheryl Jechorek said it’s difficult to make promises to teachers without knowing what the budget will look like. That’s especially true in Brooklyn Center, which is struggling to climb out of statutory operating debt. The elimination of the deadline will help Brooklyn Center make more informed decisions. “It’s better for the district, but I understand it’s frustrating for teachers,” Jechorek said.

“You’ve got to negotiate with the resources that you have,” Abbott said. “So if your reserve is gone and the state gives you nothing, you’ve got to think twice before you start giving increases.” Teachers say they know times are tight for everyone.

“Our intent is not to drive the district further into debt,” said Scott Rykken, a science teacher at Brooklyn Center High School and a member of the negotiating team. But he said teachers are starting to feel unappreciated. “The longer it goes, the more we feel less valued,” he said.

Give us a break! You feel unappreciated with your defined pension and tenure? If you feel unappreciated then quit!

Peter Eckhoff, president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers, called drawn-out negotiations a “distraction.”

A distraction for who? Did you miss a few DFL fundraisers Mr. Eckhoff?

“As we sit in this unsettled state, there’s always a lot of questions about what will be the ultimate outcome,” he said. Ekhoff said people in the business community are often shocked that teachers and districts don’t have another contract in place before the original expires. He thinks the deadline gave at least some impetus to get a deal done in a timely manner. He suggested, however, that the state should consider an incentive for completing contracts on time rather than penalty for missing the deadline.

Although the Robbinsdale School District announced a tentative agreement with its teachers Feb. 17, pending school board approval, Eckhoff thinks the lack of a deadline slowed the process. “Historically we had been driven by (the Jan. 15) deadline to get our work done early,” he said. “This time it certainly wasn’t the same sense of urgency, at least that was my perception.”

Stephanie Crosby, executive director of human resources for Robbinsdale Schools, downplayed the effect of the change. “We went a couple of weeks over,” she said. “It wasn’t like we said, ‘We don’t have a deadline. Let’s not meet.’ … We did it as timely as possible.” Crosby said negotiators still came up with “a decent package that shows good-faith bargaining on both sides.”

You mean that’s possible without a deadline?

Jechorek offered similar sentiments. “We want it done too,” she said of the Brooklyn Center teacher’s contract. “(Our teachers) deserve whatever we can give them, but we have to live within our means. … We really want to treat them fairly.”But in many school districts it’s not clear when a fair settlement may come.

At least districts don’t have their backs against the wall!

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