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Minn. districts, teachers scramble for contracts

ST. PAUL — As a state deadline loomed for Minnesota school districts and teachers to agree on new two-year contracts, the president of the state teacher's union predicted more districts than ever before would fail to reach agreements on time.

"It just speaks to the times we're in," said Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota.

As of Thursday afternoon, 209 school districts out of 342 had reached contract deals with teachers. That left more than 100 districts that hadn't yet reached the deadline, though Dooher said he expected many to wrap up agreements before midnight Friday. Those that don't will be penalized by the state to the tune of $25 per student.

But some of those not yet at the finish line include major districts like Minneapolis and St. Cloud — where the lead negotiator said Thursday that both sides had given up on hitting the deadline.

"Certainly we're extremely disappointed," said St. Cloud School Board member Jerry Van Korff, an attorney. But he said the district doesn't have the $2.5 million it would take to give teachers the across-the-board pay increases they want without laying off younger teachers and cutting class size.


Dooher countered that fairly compensating teachers will benefit students. He said teachers understand the dire financial circumstances of many districts thanks to dwindling state support and tough financial times — which is why, he said, teachers in a number of districts have agreed to contracts with no across-the-board pay increases.

Even in districts that freeze teacher pay this year, some teachers will see pay bumps thanks to the "steps and lanes" system that rewards teachers for seniority. An Education Minnesota spokesman said about half of Minnesota teachers would benefit from that during the new contract period.

In St. Cloud, Van Korff said, the school district would have to cough up about $250,000 to the state for failing to make the contract deadline. He said it added insult to injury.

"Do we think teachers are earning too much money? Absolutely not," Van Korff said. "But we've got to put our commitment to our students first."

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