Teachers, district settle contracts; Agreement adds $3.6 million in costs over previous contract

The school year came to an end, and with it came the end of a nearly year-long struggle to reach a teacher contract settlement. On June 12, the Stillwater School Board approved a new contract with the teachers union that establishes salary and benefit compensations for the 2013-2014 school year, as well as the upcoming 2014-2015 school year. The total compensation to the teacher group during the two-year period is $3.6 million over the previous contract.

“On June 1 — which turned into June 2 when it was done — representatives from the board of education and the St. Croix Education Association (SCEA) came to an agreement on the 2014-2015 teacher contract,” Director of Human Resources Cathy Moen said. “The terms of the contract have been presented to the SCEA, and they have voted to approve the terms of the tentative agreement.”

The contract covers about 560 positions, such as teachers, counselors, nurses and coaches, which is equivalent to about 480 full-time employees.

Both the SCEA and the school board agreed to approach the contract negotiations differently this year, Moen said. Instead of bargaining groups representing the union and the district, small groups of representatives discussed specific areas of concern within the contract. The options for resolution were then brought before the entire group for approval.

“It took longer than what we had hoped for, but overall we came together to reach an agreement that both sides could live with,” School Board Chair Tom Lehmann said. “We had wanted to finish before the school year was over, which we had heard how important that was. I’m glad we were able to achieve that.”

“Although this process took longer than any other process and much longer than we anticipated, I think you find that the people involved found it to be a respectful and productive process,” Moen said. “It allowed for honest and, at times, difficult conversations to reach resolutions.”

According the to terms of the tentative agreement, in the 2013-2014 year of the contract insurance benefits will not change and salaries will be frozen at the previous level. Step movements within the salary schedule were delayed until Dec. 18, 2013. For teachers who did not receive an increase in salary due to the time delay in step movement, a one-time lump sum of $500 will be paid to each full-time equivalent. The total cost of the first year of the contract is about $836,000.

In the second year of the contract, there is an increase in the employees’ share for the traditional (non-high-deductible) family insurance plan.

“The district will contribute the equivalent of 88 percent to the total premium of the Family Preferred Gold Plan,” Moen said.

Effective July 1, 2014, the district’s contribution to the non-high-deductible family plan will be up to $1,596.64 per month.

“In an effort to shift participation from the non-high-deductible plan, the district’s contribution to the high-deductible plan will increase to 90 percent of the total premium,” Moen said.

This increase will raise the total cost of the district’s contribution to $1,321.94 for the high-deductible family plan. With the high-deductible plan, the district also contributes $250 per month to a health reimbursement account.

Teachers will also get a 4 percent salary increase as part of the second year contract.

“We were able to do this because of the delay in salary increases in the first year of the contract,” Moen said.

The total cost of the second year of the contract is about $2.8 million.

“Because the majority of the changes to the contract were made for the upcoming year, the second year contract is a larger change than the first year contract,” Moen said.

Changes were also made to the policies within the teachers contract. For elementary and special education teachers, policies regarding prep time were changed to become more in line with secondary teachers.

“Prep time was increased from an average of 25 to an average of 30-55 minutes,” Moen said. “We have entered into an memorandum of understanding with the SCEA to continue to discuss the issue of scheduling prep time.”

Also included in the contract negotiation is an update to the coaching and advisor salary schedules.

The settlement fell within the school board’s established financial parameters, and will be retroactive for the 2013-2014 school year.

The teacher contract is comparable to settlements neighboring districts reached with their teachers unions.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]