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BEA files grievance against District 31

The Bemidji Education Association filed a grievance against the Bemidji Area Schools District at a special meeting on Monday.

The BEA stated the District violated a contract deadline by sending a letter too late noting a change to be made in the employment contract to BEA members.

On June 29, Superintendent Jim Hess sent a letter to teachers explaining that due to the District's current financial crisis, they would not receive automated pay raises this year.

The BEA says Hess violated the employment agreement by sending the letter too late - almost two months past the contract deadline.

Members of the BEA and District 31 must follow the negotiated rules outlined in the employee contract active from July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2009.

If negotiations are not opened first, neither party can change the contract.

According to Paul Goodwin, president of the BEA, a letter of intent was filed April 20 by the BEA to open negotiations on the agreement. Once negotiations are open, changes and additions can be submitted until a certain deadline - the main focus of debate at Monday morning's meeting.

"The contract clearly states all changes must be addressed by May 1," said Meredith Kehoe, the BEA's teacher rights chairman.

Hess argued the District's position.

"The District gave notice prior to the current contract's expiration of June 30 that we would be changing the past practice of the automatic roll of steps and lanes," he said.

What started as a timeline issue soon turned into a money issue as BEA representatives and School Board members took turns commenting on the letter's departure date and message of intent.

"In the past, the teachers of Bemidji have stepped up to the plate and helped the District by taking no increase in pay when there is open and free discussion," said Kehoe.

Hess explained that the current downturn in the economy forced the District to discontinue the practice of giving automatic pay raises based on years of service or added educational experience.

"It's not about the money," said Kehoe. "Any intent to change the contract should've been done by May 1, that's the bottom line."

The District has 10 days to give the BEA an official response. The School Board will meet in a closed meeting Sept. 1 to discuss the grievance.