The headline in Sunday’s Bemidji Pioneer tells it all…Bemidji School District: Stalled Contract Negotiations Could Reduce State Aid. Some quick background….school districts are mandated by the state to have their contracts negotiated with teachers by Jan 15th or face a “penalty” by the state in the form of a deduction from their state aid formula. In the case of Bemidji, that penalty will be $130,000. The current contract runs out June 2010.
It seems from my take of the article that the school district is trying to change formulas used for raises and the union says they were not notified within the time frame allowed. This, believe it or not dates back 7 months ago to April and May with the teachers union filing a grievance in August. Next week it goes to arbitrator from the bureau of mediation services. This one issue is holding up talks…talks that could cost the school district $130,000 (or looking at it another way maybe 2 or 3 teaching positions). Bottom line there is a lot of finger pointing going on with the clock ticking.
We’re not alone in this mess. Out of 350 school districts currently going through negotiations, only 45 (12.8%) of them have settled. I don’t know who the “bureau of mediation services” are (probably a state agency) but they must certainly be a busy department with job security considering the state of things.
I have to admit I am not a big union backer. It kind of gets to me that when the legislature is in session, Education Minnesota and its President Tom Dooher are all over the television telling me to not accept “MEDIOCRACY” and to push for school funding from our legislators. But now when teacher negotiations are going on with many school districts hanging on for dear life, the union is no where to be found. The last news statement on Educate Minnesota’s website from its President was dated October 29th, pushing people to pass school levy’s before the November election.
The school districts are certainly not without blame either. School districts know the procedures and rules during negotiations and are pushing the envelope to take advantage at every level of the poor economy to leverage their position.
I have been a part of public education for the past 20 years. My 3 kids are products of public education. I realize that many contract negotiations go down to the final days and hours before the parties get serious. But there is absolutely NO WAY in this current economic climate that we can allow EITHER side to balk to the point of being fined an additional $130,000!! With jobs on the line, now is NOT the time to be playing games with grievances or “end around maneuvers” by school districts. Everyone has to realize things are not the same with wages, benefits and job security as it was 2 or 3 years ago. In my opinion education is just behind health care as being on the edge of a national disaster. Strong leadership is needed on both sides…from the Education Minnesota union and from school districts around the State of Minnesota. Teachers need to be held responsible by have promotions and pay dependent on outcomes…like virtually every other profession. School districts need to respect contract procedures in place, and offer fair and equitable contracts. And the union needs to show the leadership values they were built on and earning the public’s respect during negotiations. The public will absolutely not tolerate anything else but this.