Management contract meets Osseo School Board goals but upsets other groups

Union president says board didn’t follow core values

The Osseo School Board recently made progress toward converting to a performance-based salary structure for some employee groups instead of the traditional steps and lanes system. But not everyone is happy about it.

Moving to a performance-based structure has been one of the board’s primary stated goals for negotiations. But the addition of $365,500 in annual health insurance costs to previously settled contracts now has other employee groups crying foul.

At its Nov. 20 meeting the school board approved a “memorandum of agreement” to amend settled contracts with five employee groups that include district executives, management, principals and licensed coordinators.

The memo was in the consent agenda and was not discussed publicly. The consent agenda is a list of items passed quickly in one motion. The board unanimously approved the consent agenda 5-0. Director Tammie Epley was absent.

The agreement called for the district to contribute half of each employee’s monthly premium costs for the district’s high deductible health insurance plan. The district estimates the agreement will add about $363,500 per year in additional costs for all five management groups. That’s an average of about $3,700 per employee.

In exchange for the contributions, the management groups agreed to three key parameters highlighted in a memo from the human resources department:

• For the 2013-2014 school year all five groups must convert to salary ranges with performance-based increases instead the current a steps and lanes salary structure. Steps and lanes refer to automatic increases based on length of employment and level of education.

• The district will commission a market study of the salary and benefits for management positions. Based on the study, the maximum salary for a position could be increased or frozen to be consistent with the market.

• The agreement includes a “market adjustment clause” that allows the superintendent flexibility to increase individual salaries to meet market conditions.

At the school board’s next regular meeting, Dec. 4, Jay Anderson, president of Education Minnesota – Osseo, objected to the board’s handling of the contracts. Education Minnesota – Osseo represents teachers, nurses and Kidstop instructors in the district.

“How can you ethically add $363,500 per year in costs to already-settled contracts, and at the same time tell nurses and Kidstop instructors you will not invest $1,400 in each of them over two years…?” he asked. He also pointed out this increase in contributions came at a time when the district expects to cut millions of dollars from the budget in the next two years.

Anderson accused the board of not following the district’s core values.

He said the board’s actions did not reflect its commitment to view everyone as having the same intrinsic value.

In an interview with the Sun-Post he clarified his statement, saying he didn’t necessarily oppose insurance contributions for management groups but that the amount granted was much higher than the parameters given to representatives of nurses and Kidstop instructors, who are currently in negotiations.

“The parameters we’ve been given are much more stringent,” he said.

Anderson also questioned why the item went in the consent agenda, instead of being listed as a separate action item with an explanation for the decision.

“The way it was done does not lend itself to trust with employees or with the community,” he told the board. “… This gives the perception you are hiding it and don’t want the community to know about this added cost you approved.”

In a rare departure from the board’s usual practice of withholding response to public comment until the following meeting, Chair Dean Henke and Director Laura Cottington both responded to Anderson’s concerns the same evening. Anderson had informed them in advance of his concerns, and they had prepared comments.

Henke said the board agreed to the additional “investment” because it enabled changes the board believes are in the district’s long-term best interest.

“The changes made in the management contract … (allow) the school board to more directly control future costs,” he said.

Specifically, Henke said, the board is interested in the performance-based salary structure.

He also said the agreement includes a provision that allows the board to stop salary advances based on budget capacity, and he pointed out that every employee in the management groups will be making health insurance contributions.

“So the school board did make an investment in order to leverage significant concessions and to limit future liability by being able to control future salary advancements,” he said. “… So within these contracts, as the board looks at the budget and our dollars available, we have the ability to say that within these groups there is no salary advancement or the advancement is of ‘X’ number of dollars. We don’t have that in other contracts.”

Cottington echoed Henke’s comments, adding the board didn’t try to hide anything from the public.

“We often have things of this nature under the consent agenda,” she said. “But we do practice pulling out master contracts as separate items when they are presented for the first time.”

She noted the initial contracts for these groups had been dealt with as individual action items.

“I can say personally that there was no attempt to bury or hide the additional (Memorandum of Agreement), and that I apologize for not pulling it from the consent agenda.”

Cottington also insisted the board views all employees as having the same intrinsic value. Nevertheless, she said, the various employee groups are different and have different needs. And that means they’ll arrive at different contracts.

“Our employee groups are all different, but not less,” she said.

She also defended the amendment of the management contracts.

“This is just one piece of an earlier approved contract that has many different articles and sections in it that pertain to the mutually agreed-upon goals, that address the long-term interests of the board for the welfare of all of our employees and students, both now and in the future,” she said.

Anderson told Sun Newspapers he wasn’t completely satisfied with the board members’ answers. He said they talked about the process for making the decision but didn’t explain how the decision would increase student achievement or close the achievement gap.