District concerned about proposed salary changes

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 1, 2003

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Thursday that he’d like to see changes in the way school districts negotiate salaries as well as the way teachers get paid.

In District 241, the reaction to those announcements has been lukewarm.

Superintendent Dave Prescott isn’t sure that either plan would benefit the state in the way the governor hopes.

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Pawlenty said he feels that teacher salaries are rising at a high rate.

&uot;We need to hold down bargaining costs. We can’t afford the trajectory any more,&uot; Pawlenty said during a conference on alternative teacher compensation hosted by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

Prescott said he isn’t sure Pawlenty has outstate schools in mind with that statement.

&uot;Sure, in some districts there have been double digit increases,&uot; Prescott said. &uot;But in Albert Lea we have historically been at or below cost of living increases.&uot;

Prescott is hoping that the state school funding will not be cut too much. He isn’t sure how the governor’s proposals in changing the rules of negotiations will affect Albert Lea.

He said that the district has maintained a good negotiating relationship with the teachers’ union, and said they haven’t had to use lawyers in the recent past.

Pawlenty made no specific proposal, but changes lawmakers expect to debate this year include binding arbitration and other restrictions on teachers’ right to strike. The changes could dramatically affect the balance of power between, school districts and teachers unions.

Any proposed revisions to the state’s Public Employees Labor Relations Act, or PELRA, will likely start a fight with Education Minnesota, the state’s largest union.

&uot;These are issues near and dear to our members,&uot; said Jan Alswager, the group’s lobbyist. &uot;The law gives them a voice &045; not control, but a partnership &045; in working out issues.&uot;

Two years ago, the legislature gave extra money to districts that developed contracts going beyond the traditional &uot;steps and lanes&uot; &045; the pay grid that looks at the teacher’s years of experience and education level. Pawlenty said school districts will have to continue to look at different ways to tie teacher pay to student achievement even though the state can’t afford extra money for such efforts.

Prescott is hesitant in endorsing such a proposal.

&uot;There have been many districts who have tried plans like this,&uot; Prescott said. &uot;Success has been limited in those.&uot;

He said he is feels there should be ways to improve performance but is not sure how something like that would be determined.

&uot;I’m not sure how you’d measure that kind of success,&uot; he said. &uot;I think teachers may begin to look for courses in which students are more likely to have vast improvement.&uot;

Prescott worried that such steps may not reward real improvement, as it the governor’s plan hopes to do.

So far this session, the only bill submitted on the issue is a repeal of the Jan. 15 teacher contract deadline, which union officials say leads to orderly negotiations but opponents say pressures districts to settle for amounts that are too high. Next week, a bill is expected to be introduced that would allow either side to seek binding arbitration during negotiations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.