At long last, Chaska-area teachers and their bosses seem to have broken the logjam that has stalled contract negotiations for months.

District negotiators and union leaders will meet again Monday, and both sides have signaled that they expect to reach a tentative agreement.

"Significant progress" was made at the last negotiating session a couple of weeks ago, said Tim Griffin, president of the Chaska Education Association, the teachers' union.

"There's a few things we need to finalize and I'm hoping that we'll have a tentative [deal]," he said.

For many school communities, it's been a difficult season for contract negotiations.

The Eastern Carver County School District is one of about two dozen school systems in Minnesota that has yet to settle its teachers' contract. Others include the Minneapolis Public Schools and Intermediate District 287, a consortium of 13 west-metro districts.

Early on, Eastern Carver County district leaders talked about a "hard freeze" on salaries, which would have fixed all staff pay and benefits for a time. That was not part of the tentative agreement reached in January between union leaders and the district.

Instead, that deal called for a first in district history: a freeze on raises tied to seniority, known in education circles as "steps." The agreement would have covered this year as well as the 2010-11 school year.

Total cost to the district for two years would have represented a 4 percent increase, or about $2 million, over the last contract.

But Chaska-area teachers overwhelmingly rejected the contract shortly before Jan. 15, the date by which all Minnesota school districts must settle their contracts or risk losing part of their state funding.

As a result of the missed deadline, the Eastern Carver County Schools lost $220,000.

In the aftermath of that contract rejection, the teachers' union conducted a survey recently to find out why the agreement failed.

It showed that 96 percent of the 400-some teachers voting on the proposal found the lack of pay increases for seniority unacceptable.

Should the union leaders and district negotiators reach a tentative agreement Monday, the teachers are likely to vote on it early next week.

Then it would be up to the school board to decide whether to ratify the contract at its April 15 meeting.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488