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Teachers, district reach tentative agreement

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The long road to a New Richmond teacher contract may finally be ending.

Negotiating teams for the school district and teachers met Dec. 14 in an attempt to hammer out an agreement and avoid a scheduled Jan. 5 arbitration hearing.

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Details of the agreement will not be released until both sides vote to ratify the contract. The School Board is slated to consider the agreement at its Wednesday night meeting. Teachers were scheduled to vote on the proposal at a meeting Monday after school.

In a joint news release, the negotiating teams reported that the agreement settles "all outstanding contract issues, including the pending arbitration over early retirement."

"I have no doubt the board is going to ratify it," said Craig Hitchens, superintendent of schools. "We believe we have reached a fair, tentative agreement that both parties will agree to."

Hitchens said the negotiation session was a positive experience, where both sides could honestly explain their proposals and fiscal limitations.

"I think both negotiating teams were extremely pleased after the meeting," he said. "There will always be areas of disagreement between employers and employees, but the two groups we able to replace conflict with cooperation.

"An atmosphere of mutual trust and respect was created during these negotiations. Hopefully we can use this as a springboard to continue to work together on a variety of issues of importance to the district."

Board negotiator Deanna Cook-Shannon echoed those sentiments in the press release.

"A key to this agreement was the willingness of everyone to remain very positive and respectful," she said. "Both sides showed an ability to listen and also offered constructive suggestions in an effort to reach common ground."

The contract, if ratified, will cover the years 2001-03 and 2003-05. Contract negotiations have dragged on for years, after the district claimed it could no longer afford the generous retirement benefits it was paying teachers.

Teachers balked at the agreement, stating that the union had previously backed off on higher salary demands in light of the benefits package.

The negotiations clock was ticking toward a scheduled arbitration hearing to decide the final contract.

Head teachers' union negotiator Jim Saliny said last week's session with the board was "wonderful" with an air of cooperation and support being displayed by both teams.

"It was just the way it was years ago in this district," Saliny said.

When the union officials presented the proposal to teachers Thursday night, Saliny said several in attendance stood and applauded when some of the tentative agreement language was read.

"Solving the early retirement issue was very important to each side," he said in a statement. "By doing so in a voluntary setting, we were able to avoid creating a 'winner' and a 'loser.' This tentative agreement will allow for better long-range planning, improved recruitment and a better future for the kids in our community."

He said he could not predict how the teachers would vote on Monday, but he remained optimistic. Because of early holiday deadlines at the New Richmond News, results of the teachers' vote were not available prior to presstime.

For up to date information on contract votes, see www.newrichmond-news.com.

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Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
(715) 243-7767 x241
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