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PL School: Tentative agreement reached with teachers - Teachers to vote on contract May 25

Pequot Lakes School file photo.

After months of deliberation, the Pequot Lakes School District administration has reached a tentative agreement with Education Minnesota Pequot Lakes regarding teacher contracts.

School board members Mike Erholtz, Valarie Wallin and Susan Mathison-Young - along with superintendent Chris Lindholm and business manager Heidi Hagan - met for round-table negotiations with Education Minnesota representative Jan Lichy and district teachers Joel Harmala, Sean Bengtson and Chris Johnson for negotiations on Monday, May 14. Nearly 50 district teachers were in attendance for the five-hour meeting.

The two sides agreed to two sequential two-year contracts, which would cover teachers through the 2020-21 school year. The agreement now moves to a vote among district teachers.

"Our board and the school district greatly appreciate our teachers in general, and we are pleased to have come to a tentative agreement that includes what we think are solid and fair salary and benefit increases," Lindholm said.

"It has been a long year," EMPL President Karen Rubado said. "We do appreciate that the board was willing to work with us - especially toward the end. We are going to move forward from here and have the meetings we need to have to talk about the agreement that is on the table."

In the first year of the proposed contract - the 2017-18 school year that is nearly complete - the salary matrix would increase by 2.5 percent, but steps involving raises would not be honored. The district would honor lane-change increases, however.

Teachers would be "held harmless" on insurance, potentially prevent large retroactive changes to their premiums.

In the 2018-19 school year, the matrix would again increase 2.5 percent, with both steps and lanes honored. The new rate for health insurance would be $7,945 for singles with an additional $1,800 for family plans and a $300 health reimbursement account.

In the final two years of the contract, the matrix would increase by 2 percent with steps and lanes honored. Insurance rates would remain the same as the previous year, and a new Schedule C matrix would be implemented for extracurricular coaches and advisors.

"Being in the middle of an unsettled contract for this long is not what anybody wants, I'm sure, on either side," Rubado said. "I think there is a sense that being able to put this aside for a while is advantageous. Whether it is a teacher, administrator or school board member, that is not why we went into the work we are doing. Having a settled contract can be advantageous for intangible reasons. As far money goes, it remains to be seen."

Lichy informed the administrators at the negotiations table that she could not guarantee the contract will be approved by the teachers when they vote on the agreement on Friday, May 25. If they vote against it, the administration and school board have discussed moving to mediation as the next step.

"We really do appreciate the leadership and the professionalism of the negotiators for EMPL," Lindholm said. "They are good people, and we are pleased to have that tentative agreement, and we are hopeful it will be approved."

Dan Determan

Staff Writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper.

(218) 855-5879