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New round of teacher contract talks begins

Gone are the days of teacher contract negotiations when union leaders squared off with District 833 representatives as adversaries.

The notion that the interests of teachers and the administration are in opposition is a myth, said Superintendent Mark Porter to teacher union representatives and school board members in a special meeting July 7 to review the contract process.

To get the ball rolling, board members Tracy Brunette, Marsha Adou and Leslee Boyd volunteered to be on the negotiating team. Denise Griffith, new director of Human Resources, and Porter will also be on the team.

Meeting separately from teachers, the group decided that three members of the team would constitute a quorum for negotiation meetings with teachers.

Representing the teachers are Patti Diamond, head of the United Teachers of South Washington County, and union members Diana McHenry, Stephanie Larson and Tom McCarthy who agreed a quorum will be Diamond and one other member.

Negotiations were set for July 13 with a half-day meeting and July 17 for a full day.

Porter said both groups hope a contract will be ready for ratification by teachers and the board by the time school starts.

The climate of negotiations will be different from that that of the past two negotiation sessions for three-year contracts.

The number of students in the district has stayed flat. The board also cut $5 million from next year's budget and increased class sizes by an average of one-half student because of no additional state funding.

Administrators, including Porter, have agreed to no raises for next year and board members urged negotiators to hold the line.

Neither side gave any indication what will be discussed in negotiations because agreeing on a mutual list of issues will be the first task in the process, Porter said.

"We get all the ideas out on the table," he said.

The process, called Interest-Based Collective Bargaining, also includes agreement on how negotiators will talk to each other, such as agreeing meetings will start and end on time and turning off pagers and phones.

The list is expected to be similar to that used in the last contract, said Diamond and Porter and will include a key element that members maintain strict confidentiality.

Until a contract is agreed to, members agree not to discuss negotiations with anyone.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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