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Agreement signed: Bemidji teachers to see increase in salary, insurance contributions

Newly hired teachers in the Bemidji School District made less per day in 2010-11 than those working at comparable school districts in the state, something negotiators with the Bemidji Education Association found unacceptable.

After negotiators from the local teachers' union and school district spent months negotiating the terms of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 teaching contract, a tentative agreement was approved Wednesday by the district's Board of Education.

As part of the deal, the district agreed to add $750 to each step of the teachers' pay schedule in 2012-13 in an attempt to keep teaching contracts competitive among other school districts and more appealing to new teachers.

While the tentative agreement was unanimously approved by the board, only four school board members cast a vote. Board members Ann Long Voelkner and Melissa Bahr abstained from voting because their spouses are members of the BEA.

The approved contract reflects a full-time teacher salary range of $31,764 to $64,485 for 2011-12 and a salary range of $33,153 to $66,218 for 2012-13. This is a .5 percent increase in salary over 2010-11 and a .5 percent increase in 2011-12.

While a salary increase was what BEA negotiators were looking for, the increase may not be enough to move Bemidji's starting salary figure up into the top tier of what starting salaries are in comparable school districts.

However, Bemidji's teachers working at the top of the pay scale continue to outrank the majority of teachers of the same pay bracket in comparable school districts in the state.

School districts listed as being comparable to the Bemidji School District are Alexandria, Austin, Brainerd, Faribault, Grand Rapids, Moorhead, Sauk Rapids-Rice, Willmar and Winona.

Starting next school year, the contract year will increase from 182 days to 183 days in order for the district to comply with a new state statute that increased the minimum number of hours of student instruction.

Teachers will be compensated for the additional contract day, according to the school district.

The two-year contract deal, which includes a salary increase, extra contract day, insurance premium contributions and other fringe benefits, will increase by 5.43 percent, based on the Minnesota School Boards Association costing model.

The district has agreed to raise the maximum amount of contributions to insurance premiums for 2012-13. Contributions will remain unchanged at $7,275 for 2011-12, but will increase to $9,000 for 2012-13.

An increase in this area had not occurred since 2008, according to the district.

In 2010-11, the school district ranked fifth among 10 on the list of comparable school districts for its single insurance contribution rate of $7,275. In the same year, the district ranked eighth among the group for its family contribution rate of $7,275.

As a way to reduce the district's burden of managing its current medical reimbursement plan, which provides each teacher as much as $300 per year for reimbursement of medical and/or dental expenses not covered by insurance, the district is allowing the plan to expire June 30. A new contract deal would place the $300 allocated per teacher on the base salary schedule in 2012-13.

Current teachers who are eligible for the retirees' Health Care Savings Plan will see a lump sum deposit rather than the Retiree Fringe Benefit Pool included in former contracts.

The new contract deal calls for teachers who were hired after Jan. 2 to receive an annual Health Care Savings Plan contribution.

According to the school district, because the Retiree Fringe Benefit Pool could become insolvent within three years, the Health Care Savings Plan would enhance benefits for retiring teachers while maintaining a cost-neutral position for the district in the long term.

With extracurricular activities, teachers will receive a .5 percent increase in extra-curricular pay in 2011-12 and .5 percent increase in 2012-13. An additional $100 will be added to the sixth step of the pay scale for 2011-12.

Other notable items in the agreement include requiring teachers to use two days of absence without pay before accessing the sick leave bank and changing the waiting period for participating in the 403(b) matching plan from three years to one year.