Eden Prairie Schools presented its “best and final offer” for the still-unsettled 2023-25 teacher employment contract on Jan. 24, agreeing to some of the teacher’s union’s proposals while rejecting others.
The offer included an increase compared to the previous financial package presented in September and addressed certain union demands, such as adding preschool teachers to the K-12 salary schedule. It also presented two options regarding teacher preparation time for the Eden Prairie Education Association (EPEA) to consider.
However, the district said it would not budge on other union proposals in areas including class sizes and safety while acknowledging that it needs to tackle significant issues in these areas.
Negotiations between the district and the EPEA started more than seven months ago, and both sides have indicated that they would like to agree on a fair contract as soon as possible.
The district has indicated that it wants to settle the contract by Jan. 31, and presented what it called its “best and final” offer one week before that self-imposed deadline.
In contract negotiations, when one party uses the term “best and final offer,” it is generally understood that they are presenting their final proposal and refusing to negotiate further. Depending on the situation, using this phrase can potentially have serious ramifications under labor laws that require public employers to negotiate with unions in good faith.
During the meeting, Eric Hermann, a field staff representative for Education Minnesota who was supporting the EPEA at the bargaining table, said that because the district repeatedly invoked this term over the course of the meeting, he would need to seek legal counsel before the EPEA could proceed further in negotiations.
EP School Board Chair Aaron Casper had opened the Jan. 24 negotiations by emphasizing that the contract package the district was about to present was its “best and final offer on the remaining items, including our financials.”
However, the district later clarified that when it said “best and final offer,” it didn’t mean to imply that it was done negotiating on all aspects of the contract, and that this was not a take-it-or-leave-it situation.
On Jan. 29, Dirk Tedmon, EP Schools’ executive director of marketing and communications, sought to clarify the language. “As stated in the meeting, the offer presented was our best and final financial offer,” he said.
“However, this was not a statement to end negotiations — the district will continue to negotiate in good faith for as long as it takes to reach an agreement. That point is underscored by the fact that one of the district responses included two options for the EPEA to consider.”
Tedmon added, “The financial offer is the top offer being made by the district, and it has provided solutions for all outstanding language items.”
Also, on Jan. 29, Dominic Kirkpatrick, the EPEA’s president, said, “We appreciated that the district has clarified that this is not a last, best, and final offer.”
Kirkpatrick added, “Whether they had or hadn’t said that, EPEA’s negotiators feel that there is still much to discuss, and we are very committed to reaching an agreement that meets the needs of Eden Prairie educators.
“We agree with the district that there are a number of issues that we are continuing to refine and reach a mutual understanding on, and we are glad to have the opportunity to keep that process moving forward,” she continued.
The two groups are scheduled to meet again this Wednesday, Jan. 31, at the district’s Administrative Services Center.
District offered upped financials, concessions, and refusals
Casper said the district’s offer was a result of “tough internal conversations” around the contract proposal, adding that the district would also be acknowledging areas “where we need to do better for our teachers and our licensed staff.”
Superintendent Josh Swanson echoed this when he said, “The best and final offer that we’re going to walk through is our good faith effort” that emerged from “deep reflection and conversation.”
Swanson added, “This offer doesn’t give you everything you hoped for, and it also doesn’t give us everything we hoped for.” However, he said his wish was that the offer would show the district’s teachers that they were highly valued while allowing the district to be “competitive and responsible.”
Thomas May, EP Schools’ executive director of human resources, presented the district’s position.
The district’s offer for the 2023-25 contract included an increased financial package. The district offered a 12.75% total package (salary and benefits) increase over two years.
This would mean a 4% pay raise in the first year of the contract (5.60% with steps advancement), and another 4% raise in the second year (5.32% with steps advancement). This translates to a $9,057,079 increase in the contract over two years.
The district’s offer was an increase from the 10.66% it offered in September, but still short of the 17.53% increase proposed by the EPEA on Jan. 17. The district said it was not willing to negotiate higher than this latest financial offer.
Some of the other items in the district’s offer included:
- A one-time payment of $1,500 to all teachers, based on 1.0 FTE (Full-Time Equivalent). It noted some exceptions, such as long-term substitutes who have less than a semester of employment at the time the contract is signed.
- Retroactive pay and benefits to staff employed by the school district on the date of school board ratification, with some exceptions.
- Putting preschool teachers on the same salary schedule as K-12 teachers and agreeing to preschool and pre-kindergarten prep time.
- Adding a new top career step and removing the lowest step.
- Increasing carry over of personal days from 5 to 7.
- Agreeing to pay teachers an additional hourly rate for special events.
- Increasing rates for teachers subbing during their prep time.
- Increasing rates for teachers for summer and targeted services.
- Certification pay to social workers, nurses, and school psychologists of $1,000.
The district also said it would reinstate a 0.5 FTE Q Comp coordinator and add preschool teachers to the Q Comp program. The district noted that the state of Minnesota only funds Q Comp for K-12 teachers so including preschool teachers will be an additional expense for the district.
Kirkpatrick asked about measures for the preschool teachers who couldn’t participate in Q Comp this year due to contract settlement delays, and about the 0.5 FTE hire. The district did not provide a definitive response at the time, but EP communications lead Tedmon later said this would need to be discussed further at the bargaining table.
Regarding prep time, instead of presenting a single firm position, the district offered two options for the EPEA to choose from. It said it was a “big ask” to restructure prep time.
- Option A: Give five minutes of prep time for 25 minutes of instruction time across K-12 if teachers eliminate the five-hour, 20-minute limit on instruction.
- Option B: The contract terms remain as is, except that starting with the 2024-25 school year, elementary school teachers would no longer required to staff the lunchroom or playground.
More information and details can be viewed on the district’s negotiations web page.
Offer excluded changes affecting class sizes, safety
While there was movement on the above items, the district said it was maintaining its position against the EPEA’s proposals concerning class size targets, meeting limits, and safety concerns.
Since negotiations began last June, the EPEA has indicated that these categories are of paramount importance to teachers’ work experience, the educational experience they deliver to students, and retention.
The EPEA has asked for additional prorated pay when class sizes exceed school board-determined target sizes. It has also asked for limits on special education teacher caseloads and on the number of meetings teachers are required to attend each week without additional pay.
The district acknowledged that some class sizes and caseloads regularly exceeded the targets the school board had set. Swanson said, “We’ve been looking through data and did find unbalanced use of resources.”
He said that the nature of student enrollment and the complicated course registration process meant that there was “always some variability” in how class sizes ultimately shake out and that there sometimes are “unavoidable overages.”
However, Swanson said the district would work with site leaders, especially at the high school, to improve the situation going forward, adding, “I apologize for that … you have my commitment to do better on that.”
Swanson said the district would address the “root causes” of these issues in future Labor Management Committee meetings, and that it was talking with the high school administration.
Regarding lowering the number of meetings teachers must attend each week to two, May said the district would not change the current contract language but would “commit to having conversations” with site leadership to encourage them to be more mindful about staffing and scheduling.
Concerning safety issues, May said the district maintained its position and would not negotiate further on the EPEA’s requests since they “did not address the root causes of these safety issues.”
The EPEA had requested that teachers who suffered workplace violence, threats, or harassment while acting in a capacity for the district should not be charged with a loss of sick leave or any other leave while they recovered. It also requested up to five days of hazard leave for teachers who were assaulted, harassed, or threatened.
There appears to be some disconnect on this particular item since the EPEA proposals reflect a request of up to five days, and the district’s language reflects that the EPEA is asking for more — an automatic five days.
Regardless, May said that the district would not agree to provide hazard leave and that staff should use their “sick bank” of 12 days of earned sick and safety leave if something bad happened to them in a workplace incident.
Swanson said he wanted everyone to know that after over 10 years working at EP Schools, he knew and cared about the district’s staff.
“While I care about the business side of the school district and how that works, just like you, I’m in this job for our kids and staff and community,” he said.
Swanson acknowledged the EPEA’s concerns over safety. He said that although the district was unwilling to agree to the EPEA’s contract proposals, it would set up a task force to address the issue’s root causes.
Regarding the scope and timing of this task force, Tedmon said on Jan. 29, “The school district will collaborate with EPEA leadership on the task force development, which will likely begin after negotiations are complete.”
Swanson also acknowledged incidents have occurred this year that should have been met with more “care and collaboration.” He said that any time a staff member is injured at work, there should be “a thorough investigation,” and the person should receive “compassionate care” and “follow-up.”
He said if someone is “sworn at, spit at, pushed, or hit … there should be consequences.” Swanson added he would ensure school sites were following district procedures and federal and state laws.
“This is an important issue to me,” he said.
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