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Penalty fee of $130,000 draws near as BEA turns down tentative agreement with school district

The Bemidji Education Association's membership voted 184-153 on Tuesday to reject a tentative contract agreement with the Bemidji School District for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years.

The District will incur a one-time state funding penalty fee of approximately $130,000 if the parties do not ratify and sign a contract by the statutory deadline of 11:59 p.m. Jan. 15.

According to BEA President Paul Goodwin, the BEA is calling an emergency council meeting today to discuss ways to work with the school district to ward off the deadline.

The District's tentative agreement committed to no base salary increase in the first year; a 0.45 percent increase in the second year; and recognition of salary steps, based on years of service and lane advancements earned through attaining additional relevant education, in both years of the contract.

In a statement released by Superintendent Jim Hess, he wrote, "While it is painful to incur this penalty ... dollars that are committed to employee salaries and benefits have a recurring annual cost. Stewardship requires that we focus our efforts and resources on developing an educational system that can be sustained for many years into the future."

According to Hess, the District's tentative agreement would commit the District to spending an additional $1.3 million dollars (an average of $2,579.85 per full-time equivalent teacher) over the two-year term of the contract.

"We're positive and hopeful that we can come to something to help out," Goodwin said. "We've had a good working relationship. We want to keep it that way. We want to stay as positive as we can. Hopefully we'll have something positive for them for the school board on Friday."

Hess wrote that school districts in Minnesota have received indications from St. Paul that schools may incur additional funding cuts as a result of a larger-than-expected deficit in the state budget for the current fiscal year. The District will monitor this situation carefully and will consider potential funding reductions as it prepares to resume negotiations.

"We are under a huge deadline," Goodwin said. "The BEA board is hopefully going to come up with something in a good-faith effort to work with the school district."

"This tentative agreement was the best we were likely to attain," Hess wrote. "A protracted labor dispute is not in the best interest of our students, staff and community,"