by Mike Knaak
The Sartell-St. Stephen school board approved on Dec. 6 its contract with the district’s more than 280 teachers.
Total package cost to the district for the two-year deal is 8.66 percent. The contract covers July 2019 through June 2021 and teachers will receive backpay in their paychecks that arrive before Christmas.
The settlement is in line with past contracts. According to the district, the average cost of the three previous settlements was an 8.42 percent increase. The most recent contract, for 2017-2019, cost 8.67 percent.
“This is a very positive contract,” Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert said. “We have a teacher shortage across the Midwest and we have to keep our wages competitive in the region.”
Sartell Education Association President Joe Schulte offered a similar assessment.
“We need to continue to attract and retain talent in this district,” Schulte said. “This contract helps us do just that. We remain competitive with area school districts.
“It is very close to the total package percentage that we received last contract,” Schulte said. “It helps to offset a 33- percent increase in our health insurance plan cost that we are facing.”
School board chair Jason Nies thanked the board’s negotiating team as well as the negotiators from Sartell Education Association.
“The teacher group was great,” he said. “The negotiations were friendly and productive.”
Financial details of the settlement include 2 percent added to the salary schedule each year. The contract also calls for increased contributions to a tax-exempt fund that pays for health care.
The new contract eliminates sick day and personal leave categories and replaces them with discretionary days.
Previously, full-time employees accrued 10 sick days and four personal days a year. The new contract calls for 13 discretionary days, allowing for more flexibility. Currently, teachers use an average of 9.25 personal or sick days per year.
“Another important provision in the contract that was likely the reason that it passed was the move to discretionary days and away from traditional ‘sick days,’” Schulte said.
“Discretionary leave is a big deal (for teachers),” Schwiebert said. “As more teachers come through the district, they want more flexibility in their schedule.”
A contract provision calls for the days to be reduced to 12 if usage exceeds an average of 10 days per year.
The new policy is similar to what’s in place in the Sauk Rapids-Rice and St. Cloud school districts.
“Our teachers are happy in their work,” Schulte said. “We are grateful the school board and the district have recognized that work and continued performance with the settling of this contract. We hope they do the same for all of our support staff, who are an important part of the team and this continued success.”
The vote to approve was unanimous with board member Pam Raden absent.