By Olivia Koester
“Settlement time! Settlement time!” approximately 400 Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota members and supporters chanted before the District 11 School Board meeting Feb. 24.
Dressed in red, they lined the halls and stairwell in the Sandburg Education Center. Their words drifted into the board room.
Everyone filed in for the communications portion of the meeting when AHEM President Julia Blaha read a prepared statement, calling for “serious offers.”
“We are doing our part,” Blaha said. “It is time for you to do yours.”
The district and AHEM began negotiating the teachers’ 2013-2015 contract in May, and it remains unsettled.
The two parties entered mediation in January, which closes negotiations to members at large and the general public.
The district is also in mediation with two other employee groups – custodians and principals – according to Paul Cady, general counsel for the district and its lead negotiator.
Neither the district nor the union will reveal the specifics of current offers, but the union maintains that the district’s offers are “virtually unchanged” each and every session.
“We’re abiding by the desire of the mediator,” which is to negotiate at the table, not in the media, Cady said, declining to comment on recent offers.
According to AHEM’s negotiations blog, teachers are calling for a 2.5 percent increase in the salary schedule each of the next two years and the retention of current benefits, and that’s affordable, they said, with increased funding from the Legislature and fat fund balances.
“It’s time to budget in a way that puts people before fund balances,” Blaha said at the board meeting. “It’s time to recognize the significant progress we are making for our students.”
Before the board meeting, AHEM’s representative assembly and executive board met to discuss “next steps,” including a possible strike authorization vote.
AHEM hopes it won’t come to that, Blaha said.
“Our job right now is to listen very carefully to our members,” Blaha said in an interview after the board meeting.
The last time Anoka-Hennepin’s nearly 3,000 teachers met for a strike authorization vote was in 2002.
The teachers are already employing work to rule, “one of the most wrenching actions teachers take,” Blaha said.
Teachers have stopped all work outside of the duty day, the seven hours and 40 minutes during the school day where work is required by contract.
According to Education Minnesota, 43 percent of the 331 contracts the organization tracks statewide were still unsettled this week. Those that have settled have seen a 2 percent raise for teachers each year on average, not including increases for seniority or education.
District 11’s current offer comes in below that average, according to the union. To accept would be to take “one of the worst settlements in the state,” Blaha said.
“We are running out of options,” Blaha told the board Monday.
Olivia Koester is at email@example.com