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Published April 22 2010

Frazee-Vergas teachers, district reach settlement

More than three months after a state deadline to finalize teacher contracts, the Frazee-Vergas (Minn.) School District reached a two-year settlement with its educators.

Halfway through the marathon negotiation, the 930-student district incurred a $25-per-student penalty for missing the January deadline. Frazee-Vergas teachers requested help from state mediators twice this winter, though the two sides ultimately reached an agreement without outside help.

“I sincerely believe the teachers got a very good deal for this economic picture,” said school board member Dwight Cook, the district’s lead negotiator.

Jerry Bellefeuille, leader of the local teachers union, said the district and teachers agreed to release a joint statement about the new contract in coming days. To honor that agreement, he said he would hold off on commenting except to say, “I’m glad that we have a settlement in place.”

Twenty-two school districts in Minnesota are still in mediation with their teachers groups over 2009-11 contracts, according to the Bureau of Mediation Services.

Teachers in Frazee-Vergas will receive a 1 percent pay increase this school year and a 1.1 raise next year. The district will honor built-in seniority and education raises both years, starting in January of this year. Teachers also negotiated a 5 percent increase in the district’s health insurance contribution this school year.

The total package increase over both years is about 4 percent, Cook said.

Based on 265 settlements reported to the Minnesota School Board Association, the average total package increase this negotiation round was 3.7 percent.

Frazee-Vergas teachers volunteered for a cost-of-living pay freeze in 2007, a move they credit with helping to pass a levy referendum that year.

Since January, the district had two sessions with a state mediator before reaching an agreement without outside help.

“They weren’t helpful at all, in my opinion,” Cook said of the Bureau of Mediation Services. “They don’t care if the school is in tight financial times. They don’t care if the teachers deserve a 50 percent raise.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529