January 19, 2012 at 8:40 a.m.

North Branch teachers take negotiation frustrations to Board; high school AC bid awarded on split vote

North Branch teachers take negotiation frustrations to Board; high school AC bid awarded on split vote
North Branch teachers take negotiation frustrations to Board; high school AC bid awarded on split vote

Back to its full six-members with last week's swearing in of new School Board member Trent Jensen; the North Branch School Board meeting January 12 got underway in front of a packed house, consisting of mostly staff. (Jensen is the appointee for Jaye Kruckeberg's vacated seat.)

Contract negotiations happen in closed door sessions, out of the public eye, but the staff made public its message of frustration. During public comment three district employees used the microphone to make a case for contract negotiations. North Branch contracts expired July 1, 2011.

Their remarks were bolstered with applause. Many staff were wearing red T-shirts that stated "Education Proud" in black letters.

The North Branch negotiating team last met officially with union reps for licensed instructors right before Thanksgiving.

School Board Liaison for negotiations Kirby Ekstrom reported the union was directed at that time to submit counter proposals to mediators.

The contracts are for two school years starting with the one we are in right now.

Ekstrom reported that union reps on January 11, however, submitted an undisclosed offer to the School Board. Ekstrom explained the union was reminded to go through the agreed upon mediation process, and that's where negotiations were at.

Retiring the end of this year, with 26 years teaching in North Branch, Jan Koslovsky told the Board she couldn't have asked for a better place to work, but at this time even the smaller Rush City School District wage schedule is "better than North Branch's." She said the Board must consider retention of valued staff when it is negotiating.

Tom Moriarity said staff requests a "settlement equal to that of neighbors."

Carmel Murphy, a second grade teacher, said the teachers seek "a fair offer" adding that in recent years teachers are asked to do more with fewer resources and class sizes are increasing.

Public comment is not something the Board members respond directly to, as spontaneous issues raised are not officially on that night's agenda.

FYI.... According to the pay equity report the Board accepted, later in the meeting, North Branch is in compliance with state law on pay equity for male/female job classes. This report is required every three years.

A starting teacher is at $4,236 and at 17 years a maximum monthly wage is $10,717. "Exceptional service pay" would be in addition and is measured as a separate pay equity calculation.

Also during public comment citizen Vicky Klun asked that the Board revisit the district advertising policy.

She shared examples of where her football boosters organization was told there are fees to list itself on the school website, to insert flyers into student communication folders or hang a sign at an athletic field-- fees which she felt were punitive when people are trying to do something to benefit students. She said the policy needs to become more "user friendly" especially when local groups or businesses are involved.

Capital expense decision

The high school air conditioner is being replaced after 15 years. The timeframe was tight to award a bid, because the bids were nearing their 30-day good-for-date and the entire installation was bid for completion by May.

The Board debated the project at length. Members were clearly uncomfortable not knowing up front what the Great River/ECE utility rebates would be for three different AC units bid. The big expenditure in general, was also a leap.

Dan Moll, consultant with ATSR Architects, reminded the Board bids are all inclusive and installers will re-use parts they are able to. Bids were within what was budgeted, and the low bid the Board went with 4-2 was a McQuay chiller at $196,500. Members John White and Jay Falk were opposed, based on past experience with the company manufacturing the unit, they said.

Mike Nelson, North Branch District Director of Buildings, assured the Board the air cooled chiller in the Gorham Oien Mechanical bid was perfectly acceptable and appears to be the most cost effective. (The Trane unit was $223,000 and the York was $214,600.)

In donations the Board acknowledged contributions of $337 from NB Lions for reading materials; the VFW #6424 for $1,000 scholarship; Kemp's milk caps $102; $400 for Robotics from a couple donors; also $2,300 from NB Traveling Baseball Assoc. for field maintenance; student council and choir donations for the arts of about $1,900; and $385 from citizens contributing to the "voluntary levy" fund. The Eddy Family Foundation of Big Lake,MN gave $1,000 to support technology expenses and United Way matching donations from individuals came to about $860.

School Board compensation remains the same for 2012. The chair (Kim Salo re-elected) gets $750 per year, vice chair (Ekstrom) $250 and clerk and treasurer $150 (Falk and White), plus the meeting per diem payments of $40. Meetings longer than four hours are $115. The second and fourth 7 p.m. Thursday night schedule remains. The Board also has an 8 a.m. to noon retreat at the North Branch regional library Saturday, Jan. 28.

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