Frustrated by gridlock at the bargaining table, more than 400 Anoka-Hennepin teachers and supporters wearing red and waving signs lined the hallway leading to the school board chambers Monday evening.
Negotiations have gone on for more than eight months. A mediator is now working with both sides in hopes of reaching a deal for a two-year contract, running from July 2013 to June 2015.
Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota, the union representing the teachers, has 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 to 1.25 percent in the first year, depending on experience, and of 1 to 1.55 percent in the second year, and for teachers to pay more of future increases in health-care costs.
Union president Julie Blaha said that, in light of previous wage concessions and improved student performance, teachers deserve more. 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,” Blaha told the school board during open comments time at the regularly scheduled meeting. “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.”
Blaha characterized the district's current contract offer as “one of the worst settlements in the state.”
The board chambers erupted in applause and cheers after Blaha spoke.
Anoka-Hennepin School Board Chairman Tom Heidemann responded with a simple, "Thank you."
Last week in St. Paul, teachers reached a tentative settlement with their district after threatening to take a strike vote. St. Paul teachers 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 agreed to only do what work can be completed during the school day and is required by their contract. The district’s nearly 3,000 teachers stopped doing work after hours, including grading papers they haven’t graded during the day, checking e-mails, tweaking lesson plans and voluntarily attending after-school events. It’s called a “work-to-rule” action.