February 7, 2014


It took Coon Rapids-Bayard school district officials and CRB Education Association representatives only an hour Thursday night to agree on salary terms and contract language, nearly concluding negotiations the same night they started.

The only remaining questions are which of the district's three insurance plans to freeze, and whether language on peer-review processes is legally required to appear in the master contract.

The teachers proposed a $400 increase to the base salary and a $75 increase to the longevity stipend, moving it from $675 to $750. This stipend is awarded to educators who have been at the maximum salary for their degree lanes for at least one full year. Those lanes include bachelor's degree plus 20 years, master's degree and master's degree plus 15 years.

"We've heard you," said Denise Ernst, speaking for the association. "We're being considerate."

Coon Rapids-Bayard school board president Joel Davis had estimated that the district was facing a potential deficit of $350,000 in its general fund for the 2014-15 year. The general fund provides money for student needs and activities as well as salaries and benefits. A deficit in this fund would mean cutting programs and cutting staff, Davis explained.

The association opened the negotiating process with a small package increase to show that teachers were serious about keeping all of their jobs, Ernst said.

"We want our jobs. We like the school, and we want everybody to be able to have their job," Ernst said, adding the between 85 and 90 percent of respondents on a survey sent to the teaching staff indicated a willingness to take a smaller raise in order to keep any fellow teachers from losing their employment.

In this year's general fund budget, a total of $--- is spent on salaries and benefits for the districts approximately 100 employees. Of these employees, 40 percent are teachers and 60 percent are support staff including secertaries and bus drivers. Members of the administration and their pay are not included in these figures.

According to estimates from Davis and school business official Gail Hopkins, the total package increase for 2014-15 amounts to between 1.6 and 2.2 percent, bringing the maximum impact on the general fund to roughly $56,000. Last year, the teachers' package increased 2.8 percent.

District officials could not promise that no job in any of the schools would be eliminated but said they are working on other cost-cutting measures to avoid losing staff.

Employees also requested that teachers be allowed to use sick days for their children, as well as themselves. Other proposed contract-language changes protect existing district practices, such as the $15-per-hour rate received by teachers who use their free class period to sub for another teacher and the existence of a free period during the day for teachers to use for planning and grading or to complete other duties.

They also requested stepchildren be added to the list of immediate family, that bereavement time for extended family members or friends be extended from a half day to a full day, that the term life insurance paid by the district double from $10,000 to $20,000 and that a web-page supervisor position be added.

District officials suggested the intramural sports supervisor position, currently not filled, be eliminated to make room for the web-page supervisor position. They did not agree to increase pay for accumulated sick days, explaining that those increases would pull from the general fund, not the management fund, but said they would be wiling to consider it next year.

The district representatives also rejected a contract clause regarding early dismissal for staff on days that morning or evening meetings require teachers to stay longer than their seven hour and 50 minute contract day. Ernst said the clause was crafted in response to feedback from high school teachers who felt unappreciated for putting in extra time. Davis said the issue was administrative and concerns should therefore be taken directly to superintendent Rich Stoffers, adding that the school board would direct Stoffers to address any discontent.

The unresolved insurance question stems from policy changes required by the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. It requires that an employer offer a plan in which employees are required to spend no more than 60 percent of their monthly wages on insurance premiums.

Hopkins said none of the district's existing three plans met this requirement. As a result, one must be eliminated to make room for a plan that does meet this requirement. The teachers want to eliminate the plan with the highest deductible while the district wants to eliminate the plan with the lowest deductible. Any educators currently on the eliminated plan would be grandfathered in.