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Blackduck teachers seek contract settlement

Negotiators representing Blackduck teachers and the Blackduck School District have met with a state mediator in an effort to settle the local teachers' contract. That session ended with no agreement and no date set for future mediation.

"The unresolved issues have to do with salaries and health insurance." said Barb Morine, president of the Blackduck Education Association, which represents approximately 50 teachers in the district of about 600 students. "A broader issue is the school board's inability to agree on how to meet the legitimate financial needs of the Blackduck Schools," she said.

After agreeing to a two-year salary schedule freeze during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, teachers continue to work without a current contract. Health insurance costs have risen over the past three years, with the average teacher now paying about $1,650 more per year for insurance.

The school board is offering a one-time lump sum payment of $25,000 to be divided between the teachers, equal to $250 per year before taxes. When adjusted for inflation, teachers are earning between $1,800 and $3,900 less than in 1993. Under the board's current proposal, teachers will continue to lose ground financially. In comparison, after a two year freeze Social Security payments went up 3.6 percent in January.

Statewide, the average teacher contract settlement calls for about a 1 percent salary increase each year of a two-year contract.

Blackduck contract negotiations began last August and divisions on the school board have contributed to the lack of progress toward a settlement.

Morine said teachers agreed to a freeze two years ago to give the board time to resolve budget issues.

Blackduck is one of the few Minnesota school districts without a referendum levy; the average Minnesota school district raises $900 per pupil through such levies. However, the board has not moved to hold a referendum or to increase the district's non-referendum levy sufficiently to meet its needs.

"We believe the district can afford a fair and reasonable settlement with its teachers," she said. "We also believe the board's financial responsibility includes both sides of the equation, revenue as well as expenditures."

"District employees should not be asked to bear the entire burden of a budget situation that was not of their making," she said.