Lakeville teachers, district end letter-writing standoff

  • Article by: SARAH LEMAGIE
  • Star Tribune
  • October 14, 2011 - 10:06 PM

To the relief of college-bound seniors, Lakeville high school teachers will once again write letters of recommendation under a deal reached this week between their local union and the school district.

The agreement ends a standoff that began two weeks ago during contract negotiations between the union and district. Hoping to spur a settlement, some teachers began refusing to write recommendation letters, among other measures requested by their union.

The move sparked an outcry from some parents and seniors, many of whom have already begun applying to colleges.

Under the deal, the district will pay for substitutes to cover classes while teachers write college recommendations.

It's the first time Lakeville has compensated teachers for writing such letters, said Superintendent Lisa Snyder, who said the district agreed to the expense to meet students' needs and keep them out of contract negotiations. The deal is not precedent-setting and will not be included in the teachers' new contract, which is still being negotiated, she said.

Other districts are "all over the board" when it comes to student recommendations, with some giving teachers extra pay or time off for writing letters and others expecting it as a routine activity, Snyder said.

A spokesman for the statewide teachers union, Education Minnesota, said that compensating teachers for recommendation letters is increasingly common. Some teachers are asked to write dozens of letters a year.

"It's something that takes a lot of time to do well for students," Snyder said, adding that Lakeville teachers are being asked to do more after the district cut the equivalent of 85 teaching positions this year.

Lakeville teachers writing recommendations will meet with their principal, who will then determine how much time to engage a substitute.

The union initially proposed to allocate up to $4,000 to each of Lakeville's two high schools to pay for the substitutes, but the district rejected that as excessive, Snyder said. The cost of the extra substitutes should fall well below that, she said, pointing out that many teachers hurried to finish writing letters before the labor action began on Oct. 3.

Substitute teachers are paid about $100 per day, she estimated.

As in districts statewide, Lakeville's teacher contract expired on June 30. Most districts have yet to reach settlements on new two-year contracts.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-746-3284

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