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Bemidji-area special ed teachers to receive raise, new health plan

BEMIDJI—A pool of special education teachers is set to receive modest pay raises and a sizeable health insurance boost.

Under a contract ratified last month, teachers at the Bemidji Regional Interdistrict Council will get a 1.5 percent raise this year and a 1.75 percent raise the next, plus several hundred dollars in monthly insurance contributions under a new health plan—a 9.35 percent total increase in compensation, council administrators told the Pioneer.

The move will help the council attract teachers and staff, said Executive Director Brenda Story. Some potential hires have rejected job offers, she said, because the district didn't have appreciable health insurance.

"Plus, taking care of our staff is the right thing to do," Story said.

The council is a special school district into which 11 member school districts in the Bemidji area funnel their federal special education money to administer special education services and make sure they're in compliance with state and federal rules. The council shares about 50 special education teachers among those districts to help students who qualify for special education services.

It's designed to be more efficient and cheaper for member districts, which are generally small and might not have enough special-needs students to justify hiring specialists of their own.

The council charges member districts for its employees' time, and administrators there plan to pay for the compensation hike by raising those rates.

"We knew this day was coming," said Tim Lutz, superintendent at Kelliher Public School and a council board member. "Because of the Affordable Care Act and because of the need to compete with other districts, we were going to have to eventually bring in a respectable health insurance package, and this was the year."

Council leaders approved the new contract in late January by a 7-3 vote with member absent.

The contract is effective retroactively to July 1, 2017.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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