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District 200 teacher negotiations still underway; progress being made

A number of teachers and family members held signs and cheered on the negotiators before the meeting Feb. 20. Submitted photo

The February school board meeting marked 236 days teachers in District 200 have been working without a contract. Similar to the January board meeting, a number of teachers attended the board meeting causing the conference room to overflow with people into the hallway.

The board and teacher negotiating team have been working to understanding each other's position and some progress was made at the latest meeting according to Jessie Holm, lead negotiator and HMS math teacher.

"Both sides really were intentional and wanted to nail out some specifics and I think we did end up leaving that meeting with a really good start finally," Holm said.

Lisa Hedin, school board president and member of the negotiation team, also said progress is being made with both the board and union making meaningful concessions. She said the contract that the district had was a very strong one and the proposed contract maintains the competitive benefits package, a salary increase and a proposed increase to starting salary for new teachers.

Holm and Hedin both said there was some language clarification being discussed at the meeting. Holm said one item of concern is the language in the contract regarding prep time. There is a lot of flexibility to the current language, so Holm said they are hoping to firm the language up.

The state recommends a certain amount of prep minutes, but Holm said the current contract language honors it as an average amount. Some weeks a teacher might be well below the recommended amount and one week they may be well above it.

"That's a hardship and it's not what's best for students to have a teacher who doesn't even have the bare minimum of recommended minutes for that day," Holm said.

However, Holm said the board understands the concern and have been working with the teachers to figure out the best way to put it into practice. Hedin said the administrators are going to review the state statute and assess how it applies to the district.

Holm said the contract has been strong in the past, but they want to maintain it so they can compete with surrounding district.

The board shares the same sentiment. Hedin said the board is offering to add money to the contract because they want a fair, reasonable and competitive contract.

"We want to be competitive in attracting new teachers to our district as well as retaining our teachers," Hedin said.

While the timing of settling the contract is not ideal, Hedin said the timing has been due to scheduling meeting times more than it has been about conflict. Progress is being made and she said they are getting close.

The next meeting has yet to be scheduled, but they plan to set a date for early March or a time that works for the full negotiating team to be present.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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