Gail Girard’s school year started with applause at a Bloomington school board meeting for her statewide teaching honor. In her last weeks before retiring, Girard held back tears at a recent meeting and begged the district to value its teachers in contract negotiations.
“I have not seen morale this low, ever,” Girard, an adapted physical education teacher, told the board in April. “And I’ve worked in the district for 20 years.”
After a taxing year, teachers have been hoping for significant raises. They were outraged when the school district offered a 1 percent increase.
Statewide, about 16 percent of teacher contracts remain unsettled for 2015-2017, about average for this time of year. Other unsettled contracts include Stillwater, Forest Lake and Farmington, according to statewide teachers’ union Education Minnesota.
The average salary increase for metro schools has been a 2.2 percent increase in the first year and a 2.1 percent increase in the second, not including possible pay increases for experience and education, the union said.
The district maintains it wants a “fair and affordable settlement,” according to Bloomington school district spokesman Rick Kaufman. Settling at the metro average wouldn’t be responsible financially, the district said.
In response, Bloomington teachers have started to work no more than the required 7.42-hour day on Fridays. They also walk in and out of school buildings together on Friday, said Wendy Marczak, Bloomington Federation of Teachers president. Teachers cut down on some volunteering, including for graduation. District tactics have prompted some teachers to look for other jobs, she said.
“They’ve basically come out, guns blazing, to convince everybody that we’re so highly paid and we can’t afford these highly paid teachers anymore,” Marczak said. “They used to be an investment, and now, we’re a cost.”
Forest Lake, Farmington
Not all unsettled districts are so tense. In Forest Lake, the two sides are close to an agreement but know funding is the challenge, said Allison LaBree-Whittlef, president of the Forest Lake Education Association.
“I think that’s a large concern for everybody, is the fact that our funding is suffering,” said Ross Bennett, spokesman for the Forest Lake district.
But Farmington teachers also are impatient to settle a contract that would give them raises comparable to those in surrounding districts, said Todd Karich, co-lead negotiator for Farmington Education Association.
In the fall, the Farmington district initially offered a 1.5 percent increase for the first year and a 1.5 increase for the second year in salary and insurance, Karich said, but the teachers wanted some arrangement for class size as well. The Farmington district rejected that and has yet to match the teachers’ request to match the average settlement comparable to surrounding districts.
The Bloomington district has said that its teachers are some of the highest-paid in the metro area, and that the budget doesn’t allow for the salary increases teachers have proposed. Maureen Bartolotta, school board chairwoman, and Superintendent Les Fujitake sent home a letter to parents last month with a link to key points to clarify “why the school board and administration are committed to staying within the district’s financial capacity.”
The terms of the previous contract remain in force until a new agreement is reached.