Elk River Area School District employees and supporters are rallying this evening before a board meeting, frustrated that their wishes for new contracts haven’t yet been settled with the school district. More than 400 are expected at the rally.

It’s the first-ever joint rally between all employee bargaining groups in the district, including teachers, clerical workers, custodians, cooks and paraprofessionals.

The two sides started bargaining early this summer, said Bill Hjertstedt, president of the Elk River Education Association, which represents 850 teachers. But the district's salary offer was “well below both metro and statewide averages.” Contracts expired June 30, he said.

“We are concerned as teachers that we’re not going to be able to continue to attract and retain high-quality teachers if we can't stay competitive,” he said.

Other concerns for teachers include heavy workload, Hjertstedt said.

The district receives $7 to $10 million less per year than comparable large metropolitan districts in the Twin Cities area, said Charlie Blesener, the district’s director of community engagement.

“We are not getting the equitable funding that other metropolitan districts are getting,” he said.

Custodians, cooks and clerical workers are concerned that their future coworkers would be paid substantially less in a district plan, said Leif Grina, a union representative for SEIU Local 284. The union is still in negotiations with the district, he said.

Hjertstedt said the open forum at the meeting is the only way to speak to the school board, because the group isn't at negotiations.

Education Minnesota spokesperson Doug Dooher said the district is looking to outsource custodial services, threatening the custodians represented by SEIU.

Hjertstedt said he hopes today's event will "kickstart those negotiations back up again." There are no bargaining sessions scheduled at this time. Because a new contract hasn’t been settled, teachers are working under their old contract.

Communities within the approximately 13,000-student district include Rogers, Elk River, Otsego and Zimmerman.