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Contract deadline repeal OK’d

Published (1/28/2011)
By Kris Berggren
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Two bills that would repeal the biennial contract deadline for resolving collective bargaining agreements between school districts and their teachers union were approved Jan. 27 by the House Education Reform Committee.

HF115, sponsored by Rep. Bob Barrett (R-Shafer), and HF92, sponsored by Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina), would repeal the Jan. 15 deadline and $25 per pupil state aid penalty imposed on districts if the deadline isn’t met. The bills now go to the House Education Finance Committee.

Recently the Minneapolis school district incurred an $800,000 penalty; St. Cloud $500,000; and Edina $230,000.

“I think the repeal is necessary so that both parties can have the same set of rules,” Barrett said, saying the deadline and penalty distorts the bargaining process.

Mike McLoughlin, Chisago Lakes school superintendent, said while the intent of the deadline holds merit because it expedites the negotiation process, it has negative consequences in terms of school finances and teacher and community morale.

The state’s largest teachers’ union opposes the repeal. Jan Alswager, Education Minnesota chief lobbyist, said teacher strikes since 1995 only occurred during years without a deadline. She noted the trend is that contracts settled earlier in the school year generally result in higher wage increases than those settling closer to the deadline.

“Deadlines get things done,” she said.

Downey said the one-sided penalty jeopardized good-faith negotiations in his district and had the unintended consequence of eroding a previously positive dynamic between teachers and the community.

Scott Croonquist, Association of Metropolitan School Districts executive director, supports a repeal or modifications to the law, such as moving the deadline up so it doesn’t interfere with the school year or requiring arbitration as with other essential public employee groups.

“Our board members just fail to understand how when we have a law that penalizes students when the adults don’t get the job done makes sense,” he said.

A companion to Barrett’s bill, SF148, sponsored by Sen. Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge), awaits action by the Senate Education Committee. Downey’s bill has no Senate companion.

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