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Mediation leads to new tentative agreement with District 833 teachers

Teachers would receive higher pay increases, and a contentious policy to determine how teaching spots are filled would undergo changes in a new tentative contract agreement between South Washington County Schools and its teachers.

School District 833 and the United Teachers of South Washington County reached the tentative agreement through mediation July 25.

School Board Chairman Ron Kath, who is on the district negotiating committee, said both sides were open-minded and willing to flex.

"Two willing parties that were working hard to come to another tentative agreement," Kath said.

Union president Marty Fridgen said in a statement that the agreement will be brought to the full membership for a vote.

"The negotiators do not approve tentative agreements, the full membership is the body that decides," she said.

The union will hold informational meetings before a vote anticipated for the week of Aug. 29.

If approved by the union, the South Washington County School Board would have to vote to ratify the two-year contract.

The teachers' latest contract expired June 30, 2015. A new agreement will cover the 2015-16 school year retroactively as well as the upcoming 2016-17 school year.

The tentative agreement includes higher salaries for new teachers, as well as increases on the upper end of the pay scale. It also condenses a pay grid, meaning it will take fewer years for teachers to climb the pay scale.

Teaching salaries would start at $38,257 this coming year for a new educator, and the highest teacher pay would be $82,630.

The district did not increase its spending in the new agreement; it still plans an 8.2 percent overall increase in the contract package. However, health insurance premiums are expected to drop by 13 percent next year, so those savings could be directed to salaries.

The union decides how to allocate increased spending in the contract.

"They reinvested the savings from benefits to wages," Kath said.

The tentative agreement includes a 1.3 percent pay increase for the 2015-16 contract year, plus 2.25 percent for longer-serving teachers. That pay would be retroactive.

In the 2016-17 year, all teachers would receive a 1.2 percent salary increase, and teachers higher on the pay scale would see an additional 2 percent increase.

Step and lane increases for years of service and education also are included.

The policy used to fill vacant teaching positions also will change.

The district is one of two in the state that use seniority, not interviews conducted by building or district administrators, as the basis for filling vacant positions.

The so-called transfer article included in the tentative agreement retains seniority as the basis for filling positions in the first two rounds, but administrators would have the ability to interview teacher candidates for openings following a second round.

The changes also condense the timing required to move through the process each spring to fill teaching positions, Kath said.

This is the second tentative agreement in the ongoing contract negotiations. Teachers rejected the first proposed deal 55-45 percent. Union and district negotiators agreed to the July 25 mediation after that tentative agreement was voted down.

Negotiations on the new contract for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years were delayed until after last November's school referendum. Fifteen negotiation sessions were held before mediation.

Mediation was held through the state Bureau of Mediation Services. There is no cost to the district or union for the state-appointed mediator.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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