Frustrated by gridlock at the bargaining table while other school districts reach contract deals, Anoka-Hennepin teachers are discussing more aggressive action.
Teachers union leadership teams will meet Monday to talk about what to do next, including a possible strike authorization vote, said Julie Blaha, president of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota.
In preparation, union leaders are taking the pulse of its 3,000 members this week, Blaha said.
Anoka-Hennepin is the state’s largest district with about 39,000 students.
“People are seeing the other settlements coming in around the state,” said Blaha, referring to a tentative deal in St. Paul as well as agreements in Mounds View and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan.
“Our teachers are pretty sensitive to settlements nearby. They are looking for a district that is going to support them long term.”
Statewide, 57 percent of the 331 two-year contracts tracked by Education Minnesota have been settled. The average salary increase for teachers has been 2 percent in the first year and 2 percent in the second, according to the union. Anoka-Hennepin has offered less, the local union says.
“Reaching a settlement is a top priority of the School Board so we will continue to meet in good faith,” Paul Cady, Anoka-Hennepin general counsel and head of the district’s negotiations team said in a written statement. “Despite the union’s work actions and discussion of a strike, we will continue to focus on providing the best educational experience possible for our students.”
The two sides have been negotiating for eight months. A mediator joined the talks in January and is working with the parties behind closed doors in hopes of reaching a contract running from July 2013 to June 2015. Another session is scheduled Thursday.
As of December, Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota had proposed a 2.5 percent raise in each year and no change to benefits. According to the union, the district’s last offer, in December, was for a raise of 1 percent to 1.25 percent in the first year, depending on experience, and of 1 percent to 1.55 percent in the second year, and for teachers to pay more of future increases in health care costs.
Blaha declined to discuss specific proposals now on the table but said: “We’ve made movement but the district has just moved money around.”
“Our state mediator has asked both sides to refrain from discussing negotiations issues in the media,” Cady said. “I can tell you only that the board is committed to reaching a settlement while remaining fiscally responsible.”
Heating up in Osseo
In the neighboring Osseo School District, negotiations are also growing more tense after eight months without a new contract.
Teachers are pushing for a salary increase and improved health benefits. “Our district talks about recruiting and retaining top talent, but it can’t be competitive with other districts when it’s offering a 0 percent salary increase,” said Kelly Wilson, president of the Osseo teachers union.
Teachers rallied at a Maple Grove restaurant on Tuesday and were planning to show up en masse at the school board meeting in the evening.
More than 400 Anoka-Hennepin teachers and supporters wearing red and waving signs turned out Monday night for their school board’s regular meeting.
Blaha addressed the board during open comments time. In light of previous wage concessions and improved student performance, teachers deserve more, she said. About 60 percent of Anoka-Hennepin teachers haven’t had a raise in four years, according to the union.
“It is time for serious offers that make real progress toward a settlement,” she said. “It is time to budget in a way that puts people before fund balances. It is time to recognize the significant progress we are making for our students. We are doing our part. It is time for you to do yours.”
Supporters applauded and cheered after she spoke.
Board Chairman Tom Heidemann responded with a simple “Thank you.”
St. Paul teachers reached a tentative settlement with their district last week after threatening to take a strike vote. They negotiated an 8.6 percent wage-and-benefit increase over two years. Pay increases are 2.25 percent in year one and 2 percent in year two.
In January, Anoka-Hennepin teachers turned up the pressure with a “work-to-rule” action: doing only what can be completed during the school day and is required by their contract. Teachers stopped grading papers they haven’t graded during the day, for example, or checking e-mails, tweaking lesson plans and voluntarily attending after-school events.
Staff writer Kim McGuire contributed to this report.