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Perham-Dent teachers accept two-year pay freeze

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PERHAM -- The Perham-Dent School District and teachers reached an agreement last week on a two-year contract that freezes salaries the next two years.

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Perham Education Association, which represents the teachers, agreed to a salary freeze for two years at amounts from the 2008-09 school year, this according to information released by the school district.

The teachers also accepted a freeze for 2009-10 on step advancement for their teaching experience. The school district agreed to place teachers on their correct experience step on the salary schedule for 2010-11, but without payment of any deferred compensation for dollars lost due to the step freeze in 2009-10.

Benefits, including district payment toward health insurance premiums, retiree insurance, severance, and number of teacher leave days were all frozen.

The settlement included a zero percent salary increase in both 2009-10 and 2010-11.

District cost increases as per the settlement, including step advancement in the second year of the agreement, total 0.85 percent the first year and 1.64 percent the second year.

This compares with statewide total settlement costs to date of 1.96 percent for this year and 2.64 percent for next year, according to Education Minnesota.

"Both parties were pleased to have finalized the agreement without the need for assistance from a state- appointed mediator," commented David Knudsen, lead negotiator for the teachers.

Also very important to both sides was having reached an amicable agreement prior to the state of Minnesota's Jan. 15 deadline.

Extending talks beyond that date would have meant a loss of more than $30,000 to the school district in a state-imposed penalty, according to Superintendent Tamara Uselman.

David Schornack, spokesperson for the district negotiations team, thanked teachers for their ability to accept a contract that froze salary numbers at current levels.

"It's unprecedented, really, for an agreement to keep the old numbers in place for three years. We are thankful to teachers for working with the district for this settlement during a tough economy."

The two groups voted to ratify the agreement this past week.

The Perham-Dent School Board took the position of "hard freeze" early in the negotiations.

Negotiators filed for mediation, along with a number of other area Minnesota districts that enlisted outside help to break stalemates in teacher contract negotiations.

Last spring, Minnesota froze school aid for the next two years and delayed some payments, setting off an especially tough round of negotiations.

Statewide, about 150 districts requested mediation services, including 56 in November alone, the most in that month since 1993, according to the Bureau of Mediation Services.

-- East Otter Tail Focus

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