MPS closing in on teacher contract approval

MARSHALL – The second step in the process of teacher negotiations is complete, with 92 percent of Marshall Public School staff approving the new contract this week.

The final step involves a vote by the school board Tuesday evening. If approved, the contract will be retroactive from July 1, 2013, to Jun 30, 2015, Marshall Superintendent Klint Willert said.

“We do this every two years,” he said. “The contract that we negotiated had expired on June 30, 2013, so we were using a continuing contract. There really wasn’t anything that was a hurdle, and we tried through the process, to make sure we had a contract that represented the many interests throughout the entire district, which is hard when you’re dealing with that number of people. I believe we have a very responsible contract.”

Marshall Education Association President Jennifer Gregoire, a school psychologist in the district, said that the contract included 195 staff members, 99 percent of whom voted on the contract this week.

“It was a three-day process,” Gregoire said. “On Monday, we counted the votes and it passed by 92 percent, so we were pleased with that.”

Regardless of whether a staff member was full time or part time, each was allotted one vote, Willert said.

“I would say that our process is a very open process,” he said. “We have pretty candid conversations when we sit together and talk. And in my experience in working with the staff, it’s been a very positive experience. It’s about collaboration and finding our mutual interests.”

While the old contract expired back in July, negotiations did not begin until January this year. Willert noted that eight meetings were held, with each of them lasting between two and two-and-a-half hours.

“We had a representative from each building, so that’s four buildings,” Gregoire said. “MA-TEC goes with the high school. Along with myself and administration, we all get together. Just because of the sheer numbers, it can be difficult to find a common meeting time. But we work through it. Wayne Ivers, the negotiator, is also involved in the process.”

Once the process started, it went quickly and smoothly, Gregoire said.

“The process didn’t take that long,” she said. “We discuss things in small-group settings, so there’s the ability for teachers to question and answer, which is nice. The negotiation team then gave an update by building. They talked about what was in the contract and what areas needed to be changed or not.”

Willert and Gregoire credit everyone’s professionalism for making the process go efficiently. Board members Matt Coleman, Bill Mulso and Jeff Chapman were also involved in the process and gave fellow board members regular updates along the way.

“We have a pretty good working relationship, between the board, the administration and the staff,” Willert said. “I think our relationship and our focus on trying to arrive at a mutually agreeable outcome that benefits our students and community makes a big difference.

Much of the discussions involved Q Comp, which, according to the Minnesota State Department of Education, is a voluntary program that allows local districts and exclusive representatives of the teachers to design and collectively bargain a plan that meet the five component of the 2005-enacted law. Those five components under Q Comp include Career Ladder/Advancement Options, Job-embedded Professional Development, Teacher Evaluation, Performance Pay and an Alternative Salary Schedule.

“We retained participation in the Q Comp program,” Willert said. “So the staff have the opportunity to earn up to $1,000 through the various components of Q Comp. Some of the more significant pieces include the goals that teachers set and our school improvement plans throughout our buildings. These are two important components of the Q Comp.”

Teachers also have the opportunity to continue participation in the professional learning communities, which Willert said was also very important.

There are also several leadership components as part of the Q Comp structure in the contract as well, Willert said, though not every teacher takes advantage of those opportunities.

“Teachers who feel like they have leadership skills or have been identified to have leadership skills can take on different leadership roles in the district,” Willert said. “There are leadership teams at the building level, leadership teams at the district level and leadership team participation in our activities department.”

Willert noted that the district also takes pride in recognizing and rewarding staff for pursing advanced degrees.

Along with that knowledge, teachers also need to have good practice and good delivery, Willert said. Gregoire said she believes the district does a good job of encouraging teachers to continue their education. A cost of living increase was also factored into the new contract for staff.

“One of the things we worked through in the negotiation process, because we recognize that there’s inflation and a higher cost of gas, was to include a cost of living increase,” Willert said. “The increase was $675 per employee.”

New this year is a small financial token for long-time, dedicated leaders in the district, like volleyball/girls basketball coach Dan Westby and band director Wayne Ivers.

“We did recognize some longevity for some individuals,” Willert said. “The idea came about as a recommendation from our activities leadership team, wondering what they could do to recognize some of these staff members that have made a commitment to MPS and the Marshall activities department. So we tried to recognize the contributions that those people have made, not only currently, but their commitment to those roles in our district as well.”