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Detroit Lakes teachers get above-average labor deal; hesitant about Q Comp

Labor negotiations are known for being dragged out to the last possible minute, with acrimony on both sides.

The recently approved labor deal between Detroit Lakes Public Schools and its teachers didn't exhibit acrimony, at least publicly.

"Both sides are pleased," said Bruce Raboin, Education Minnesota-Detroit Lakes' lead negotiator and a special education teacher at Roosevelt Elementary

Raboin said the talks weren't that difficult, considering the circumstances.

"I don't know if I'd consider it tougher than the last one," Raboin said of talks with the district.

With funding tight, mainly due to the state holding back 27 percent of its share of funding due to the budget mess, Raboin said that teachers understood what position the district was in.

On the other hand, the district has been gaining enrollment in the past few years, shaking off declining enrollment in the middle part of the last decade. Voters also approved an increased operating levy in November that the district can tap into.

"Our district has done a good job in keeping a healthy fund balance," Raboin said.

Teachers were rewarded a little in the end, especially compared to their counterparts across the state.

Teachers will get a 5.81 increase in total compensation -- salary and benefits -- in the next two years compared to the last labor deal that expired before the current school year started.

The average increase across the state stands at 3.8 percent.

"We're probably going to end up slightly above the state average," Raboin said.

He said that teachers generally struck a deal for less than the state average. That trend changed with the deal that ran from 2007-09

"Historically, we've settled for below the average settlement," Raboin said.

The district, though, will likely have a battle in the next go-around, especially if it receives federal Race to the Top funding.

A requirement of Race to the Top, if Minnesota is one of the 10-15 states awarded grants, is for the district to join the Q Comp pay plan by the 2012-13 school year. The district would need the teachers' approval to join Q Comp.

The big fear, Raboin said, with Q Comp is the unknown. He said there isn't one formula that applies to every district, so every plan is different.

"Different district have different agreements that aren't alike," he said.

The tradition step and lane pay structure would be eliminated. Steps are years in service and lanes are pay based on taking post-graduate courses that include credit for receiving a master's degree.

"That salary schedule would disappear," Raboin said.

An additional component is tied to teacher evaluations that are partly based on student performance.

Moving on to Q Comp requires teachers to have trust in the School Board and with administrators.

"We aren't quite there yet," Raboin said.