Teachers vote to accept contract; full school board must sign off on deal
A contract that offers something for everyone is how Paul Goodwin, president of the Bemidji Education Association, described the latest offer that now has the local teachers' union's majority support.
More than 80 percent of the 325 teachers who took part in an election Wednesday voted in favor of the latest 2011-12 and 2012-13 contract offer from the Bemidji School District's negotiations team.
The vote came days after two leadership teams with the BEA approved the same offer. In order for the BEA to ratify the tentative agreement, the union needed at least 66 percent of its membership to vote in support of the deal.
Now, the district's Board of Education will consider whether to vote in favor of the tentative agreement at 7:15 a.m. Thursday in the main school district office building's conference room.
While details of the contract offer have not been publicly released due to current proposals being classified as "protected nonpublic data," Goodwin said the contract includes "something for everyone" and added he is particularly pleased not all of the negotiating efforts were funneled into one area of the contract.
"That really made me feel good in working with the school district to resolve this," Goodwin said. "The people who are working toward the end are getting something for their retirement and the younger teachers coming in are getting something. Also, people who need health insurance coverage are getting something to help out, as well."
Two years ago, the school district and BEA struck a deal hours before the school district would have incurred a state-imposed, one-time penalty fee of roughly $130,000 for failing to meet the state-mandated Jan. 15 bargaining deadline. Since then, the 2011 Legislature has repealed this deadline.
This year, the BEA and school district met 13 times, two of which were with a mediator with the state Bureau of Mediations, before the BEA ratified the contract offer.
"We were getting closer and closer and so I became more hopeful," Goodwin said. "I'm very appreciative that toward the end we had a mutual understanding and were able to communicate and get rid of the road blocks."
Earlier this year, a BEA official said the union was concerned about negotiating to keep teacher salaries competitive and seeing an increase in health insurance benefits.
As president, Goodwin said his goal has been to increase communication between the teachers and the school board.
"Hopefully that will continue into the future," he said.
Every two years, school district teachers renegotiate the terms of their contract. Teaching contracts operate on a two-year term, beginning July 1 of each odd-numbered year.
At a school board meeting earlier this week, Jordan Hickman, the district's director of human resources, said the district's negotiation team had met with other bargaining groups, but many have been unwilling to move forward until the contract negotiations between the BEA and the school district are resolved.
If the school board approves the tentative teaching contract agreement next week, Hickman said he expects negotiations between other bargaining groups to rapidly pick up.