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Lake Park-Audubon teachers accept one-year pay freeze

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Teachers in Lake Park-Audubon have agreed to a two-year contract that provides for essentially no pay increase the first year and only a minimal increase the second year.

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The overall cost to the district will be less than 1 percent, said Superintendent Dale Hogie.

The teachers in effect agreed to a so-called hard freeze for the first year of the contract -- 2009-2010 -- and a so-called soft freeze for the second year -- 2010-2011.

"It's commendable that our teachers agreed to a freeze," Hogie said. "It made it more difficult when neighboring districts were allowing (raises) ... It shows that our teachers care not only about students, but about the financial health of the district."

Both Hogie and the district's two principals earlier agreed to a pay freeze for 2009-2010. He said he expects to ask for a pay freeze the following year as well.

The principals will negotiate a new two-year contract for 2010-2012, and Hogie's three-year contract expires June 30, 2011.

Base salary for a starting teacher at LP-A was set at $30,156 for 2008-2009 and will remain at that level for 2009-2010.

Usually, when teachers get a so-called step increase, the annual salary for a starting teacher is bumped up, and that same increase is passed along to teachers on all 26 steps.

For the 2010-2011 contract year, teachers will receive $640.

"That's a soft freeze," Hogie said. "There's no change in the salary schedule, but every teacher will get that ($640 increase) for one year of experience.

Teachers already on the highest step will not get the increase.

They sometimes get a smaller seniority bump, but there is no provision for that in the contract, which was approved by the teachers' union Jan. 8, and ratified by the school board Jan. 12.

There are some other minor increases. Staff development pay will increase to $24 per hour from $22 per hour. That comes from a special designated fund.

There are three married couples teaching at the district, and they will no longer be penalized under the benefit plan, but will be compensated the same as if they were single.

That does not apply to Hogie and his wife, Cheryl, who teaches at LP-A, because Hogie does not fall under the teachers' contract.

The total cost to the district over the two-year life of the contract "will be a fraction of a percent, when it's finally worked out -- it's really low," Hogie said.

A representative from the teachers' union, a school board representative, Hogie and a state-sponsored mediator met Dec. 30 and worked out the preliminary contract during a 14-hour negotiating session.

"There were concessions made on both sides," Hogie said. "The teachers gave up (step increases for 2009-2010) and the board was hoping for a hard freeze both years."

In other school board news, few changes were made during the annual board reorganization meeting earlier this month. The officers remain the same and so does the makeup of most board committees, Hogie said.

The district should have enough funds to weather the storm if the state acts to delay payments to school districts this spring to help solve a cash shortage.

By postponing those payments for several months, the state could avoid borrowing money to pay its routine operating expenses.

That's the best of several bad options for school districts, Hogie said, because if the state borrows to pay the bills it could jeopardize the state's credit rating -- which could result in higher interest rates for all levels of state government, including school districts.

The state is also considering holding back payments to state colleges and universities and slowing down corporate and state tax refunds.

The state's fund balance can swing by as much as $1 billion over the course of a month, depending on when tax collections flow in and payments flow out.

The state needs about $550 million in delayed payments, borrowing or other legislative actions to meet its needs.

Delayed payments would mean a second hit for school districts, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty postponed $1.8 billion in school aid payments in July to help ease a state deficit -- causing some districts to seek short-term borrowing to solve cash-flow problems.

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