BY Paul Groessel
Sun POST Newspapers
Osseo Area Schools and Education Minnesota Osseo teachers union have reached an agreement for 2013-2015 contract terms after months of negotiations.
After four years of frozen or nearly frozen salaries, the contract includes 2 percent wage increases for teachers. It was also the first round of negotiations where two school board members were involved in the negotiations between the 1,629-member union and the school district.
“The way we interacted was very respectful,” said District 279 School Board Member Jacki Girtz, who was part of the negotiations with School Board Chair Teresa Lunt.
Education Minnesota Osseo President Kelly Wilson, who has been a teacher for 29 years, said the negotiations were respectful and began in earnest after the operational and technology levies passed with voter approval in November.
“Everything was given careful consideration even if it wasn’t agreed to,” Wilson said.
The total package amounted to $9.6 million, a 6.45 percent increase from the last contract agreement, said Judy McDonald, the district’s executive director of human resources.
Wilson said some of the biggest components of the contract include the 2 percent step and lane wage increases, a cap that was placed on the district’s contributions to health insurance premiums, a sick day financial incentive and seniority calculation for new teachers.
“The 2 percent each year was really big for our teachers,” he said.
The wage increase is a flat 2 percent for the 2013-2014 school year, and a 2 percent average for the 2014-2015 school year, benefitting teachers who continue training and education. In the second year of the contract period, the more senior teachers who do not further training or education will have a wage increase below 2 percent while newer teachers who increase training can receive more than a 2 percent increase, he said.
An incentive to attract new teachers was also established. The salary structure for 2014-15 begins at the two-year teacher level, Wilson said.
On the health insurance side, the school district contributes to teachers’ health insurance premiums, enough to cover 100 percent of current premium payments for single teachers. When the current plan ends, insured teachers will have to pay for any premium increase that exceeds 2 percent, Wilson said. In the last few years, the average premium increase has been 1.6 percent, he said.
The contract includes a new Sick Day Incentive Memorandum of Understanding, according to the summary from McDonald. Teachers who were hired in 2007 or later and only use one or two sick days per year can convert two sick days into payments into a post-employment health care account. The payment would be $270, which is equal to two days of substitute teaching.
Some Osseo Area Schools employees who are under a different bargaining unit and become teachers can receive up to two years of seniority after their probation period ends as a new teacher and they enter into a continuing contract.
Before the School Board approved the contract on April 15, Board Member Jim Burgett recognized that the district will be asking a lot from its teachers in the next few years.
Some of those changes include district-wide grade reconfiguration, a technological expansion in classroom curriculum and student equity initiatives.
“So this is a time of upheaval and we’re going to need the support, kind of an all-hands-on-deck approach,” he said.
The school board approved the contract 5-1, with Board Member Dean Henke voting against it.
After the meeting, Henke said his view has been consistent, and he did not agree with “over-generous” sick days, with a post-employment conversion incentive that could be costly for the district and the seniority structure is not necessarily based on who is the most effective teacher, but who has been there the longest.
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