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Frazee teachers want raise, administration balks

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After months of closed sessions for negotiations, during last week's Frazee-Vergas School Board meeting, Superintendent Deron Stender released a list of facts that have been discussed with Frazee teachers.

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He said there have been rumors and misconceptions on the negotiations, and hopes to change that.

Since this list was released, Frazee Education Association President Doug Schwarzrock said they have gone through mediation sessions and "almost all of those items have changed," he said.

According to the document handed out, the 2007-08 and 2008-09 contract, which expired June 30 this year, consisted of:

• The only freeze was to the salary schedule. The teachers received steps and lanes each year, an increase of $146,211 or 3.11 percent over the two-year contract.

• Increase in life insurance from $20,000 to $30,000.

• The school board never promised the Frazee Education Association (FEA) that if the referendum passed the FEA would be rewarded. As stated in every public meeting, the referendum dollars are dedicated to books, buildings and technology.

• In the Frazee school district, teachers have never received vacation days. (Schwarzrock said teachers are given two personal days a year. They can be used for a non-sick day off, and in the past, teachers have been able to bank those days up to five a year. If they were to go over the five days, they were paid a certain percentage of those days. Now, it would be a use it or lose it for the two days a year.)

• The Frazee teachers are contracted for 181 days per year, at 7.5 hours per day. The master agreement provides full-time FEA members with 15 paid sick leave days annually, accumulative to 150 days, and two paid personal leave days annually, accumulative to five days.

The district's offer as of Nov. 16 included:

• Freeze on salary schedule in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

• Freeze on steps in 2009-2010 and 2010-11.

• Freeze on new applications for lane advancement in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

• Addition of 30 minutes per day to be compensated at BAO level of pay ($2,092/year) (BAO is the level of a beginning educator. Schwarzrock said they are proposing the teachers come in earlier in the morning and get paid at a lower level.

"In the end, we would have to work six extra days and get paid for four and a half," he said. "IF they pay at BAO level, those who have masters degrees, it's like getting paid minimum wage.")

• Freeze on health insurance benefits in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

• Removal of Health Savings Account for retirees in 2009-10 and 2010-11 ($10,800 per retiree)

• Removal of life insurance benefits for employees in 2009-10 and 2010-11 ($58 per employee)

• Removal of limited insurance benefits for employees in 2009-10 and 2010-11 ($190 per year)

• Freeze in 403b Match program in 2009-10 and 2010-11; steps must be allowed. (A 403b is similar to a 401k, but for younger educators, those who have started teaching after 1990.)

• Freeze on extra-curricular salary schedule in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

• Increase in extended time and hourly rates in 2009-10; freeze in 2010-11.

• Removal of reimbursement for unused personal leave.

• Freeze in "Other Payments Schedule" in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

• Reduction in allocation of paid sick leave from 15 days per year to 10 days per year.

• Total increase over both years of $186,540 or 4.334 percent.

• Average increase in pay and benefits of $1,250 per teacher for 2009-10 and 2010-11 (each year of the contract).

The FEA's offer includes:

• 4 percent increase on salary schedule in 2009-10.

• 4 percent increase on salary schedule in 2010-11.

• Steps and lanes granted in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

• Heath Insurance increase in 2009-10, freeze in 2010-11.

• Health Savings Account retiree increase in 2009-10, freeze in 2011.

• Life insurance increase in 2009-10, freeze in 2010-11.

• Increase in 403b Match program in 2009-10, freeze in 2010-11.

• 4 percent increase on extra-curricular salary schedule in 2009-10.

• 4 percent increase on extra-curricular salary schedule in 2010-11.

• Increases in extended time and hourly rates in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

• Total increase over both years of $506,419 or 11.482 percent.

• Average increase in pay and benefits of $3,392 per teacher for 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Stender said, according to state law, if an agreement is met by Jan. 15, or the district and teachers are in arbitration, the district is fined a one-time fine of $25 per pupil.

But, those things have changed.

"One of the things that has greatly changed, it says we're asking for a 4 percent increase each year," Schwarzrock said. "Well, that was offered back in September when we started negotiations. The reason you do that, you always start a little high with the hope of ending up somewhere in the middle."

Since the mediation session, although they haven't set a number, it's not that high, he said. All they're asking for is simply a cost of living increase.

The previous two years teachers have already gone through pay freezes.

"Our goal is really just to preserve our current contract and not lose anything."

Looking at the board's list, he said, it's about taking away things they have negotiated for in the past.

"Some of those items, when we negotiated for them years ago, we took those items in place of a pay raise. So now it kind of stings when we are offered to take things away we gave up in the past."

With the current offer, he said, there would be about 17 teachers in the district that would earn $1,000 less next year than they do now. They have reached the top of the salary scale because of their years with the district and can't take a step up. The board is asking to freeze steps and salary.

He said that the negotiators have looked into neighboring school districts, and the Frazee-Vergas teachers are actually averaging $5,000 less in pay than other veteran teachers in the region.

"We aren't ahead of the pack or anything," he said.

The board's proposal could also affect getting more education.

"There's a real discouragement for anybody to gain any new skills," he said. "There's a disincentive to improve yourself."

Although he hopes for an agreement by the Jan. 15 deadline, he said he also doesn't know if it will happen or not.

"The whole (list handed out) made it sound like we were just out to take advantage of the school district and that's the last thing we want to do," Schwarzrock said. "Most of us live here, our kids go to school here. We want the school district to remain healthy."

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