Anoka-Hennepin farther from settlement with teachers

Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota and District 11 continue to be at a standstill in contract negotiations.

Negotiators met for the 17th time March 27, but no tentative agreement came out of the six-hour mediation session.

Organizers estimate that nearly 1,000 Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota members and supporters rallied for a fair settlement at the March 24 Anoka-Hennepin School Board meeting. “271 – get it done!” those present yelled before the meeting began, alluding to the fact that the teachers’ 2013-2015 contract is 271 days overdue as of Monday. Photo by Olivia Koester

Organizers estimate that nearly 1,000 Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota members and supporters rallied for a fair settlement at the March 24 Anoka-Hennepin School Board meeting. “271 – get it done!” those present yelled before the meeting began, alluding to the fact that the teachers’ 2013-2015 contract is 271 days overdue as of Monday. Photo by Olivia Koester

“The teams exchanged several proposals, but made minimal progress,” AHEM President Julie Blaha said in a press release. “We are still apart on our main issues of disagreement, but will continue to look for ways to resolve our differences.”

Everyone is hoping those differences can be rectified before April 17 when Anoka-Hennepin teachers – nearly 3,000 of them – will vote whether to authorize a strike.

The two primary disagreements center around salary schedule changes that would affect AHEM’s least-experienced members and health insurance costs.

“We entered the meeting with two open issues,” Board Chairperson Tom Heidemann said. The first thing AHEM negotiators did was put forward a new proposal that more than doubled the cost gap between the two sides’ offers, he said. “We were fully prepared to get there. To go backwards like that was really kind of a shock.”

AHEM proposed $500 be added each of the next two years on the salary schedule when previous proposals added $1,000 of one-time money, Blaha said.

That means a $2.4 million cost gap increased to $5.5 million, Heidemann said.

The union disagrees with that estimate, questioning the district’s “cost-forward” budgeting model. It doesn’t take into account savings from 98 retirees, 30 Q-Comp positions and more, inflating costs, according to Blaha. AHEM’s latest proposal is essential to protect newer teachers on the salary schedule, she said, calling the district’s offers “divisive.”

AHEM has been requesting the school board’s presence at negotiations for months. The three most senior members – Heidemann, Vice Chairperson Marci Anderson and Clerk Scott Wenzel – attended the mediation session Thursday.

Their presence allowed for a greater exchange of information, Blaha said. “We did get some clarification on their proposals that we hadn’t had before,” she said.

The board will hold a special closed-session meeting Saturday morning to discuss negotiations.

A sixth mediation session has not been scheduled, but both sides stand ready to meet again, they said.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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