Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing) considers teachers essential public employees, like firefighters, police officers and school principals. HF339, which he sponsors, would require teachers and districts to negotiate only when school is not in session, and forbid them from striking if they can’t settle on a contract.
The proposed changes would “ensure no disruption of that essential job of educating our children,” Kelly told members of the House Education Reform Committee. He said contentious negotiations, especially while school is in session, can damage community relationships.
The bill would eliminate the Jan. 15 contract deadline and districts’ financial penalty for failing to settle by then. Bargaining would occur during the three-month period preceding Sept. 1 in an odd-numbered year, with negotiations suspended until the equivalent period the following even-numbered year if an agreement is not reached. If no contract is settled by Sept. 1 of the second year, an arbitrator selected by the Bureau of Mediation Services would make a binding determination based on a final offer total package from each party.
Education Minnesota Chief Lobbyist Jan Alswager said the current deadline “has been one of the best tools to get contracts settled” in 99 percent of negotiations in the 17 years it’s been in statute.
Rep. Tom Tillberry (DFL-Fridley) said the bill would impose statutory control of a process that should be local. “Why bother having school boards?” Tillberry asked, if negotiations could eventually be given over to a third party to decide. He endorsed collaborative, or interspace bargaining, as a less adversarial option that has worked well in Roseville schools, where he has worked for 14 years.
“This is about local control,” said Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester), who sponsors HF464, which would make similar contract process changes, but retains teachers’ ability to strike. It has no Senate companion.
She said the Rochester school district uses interspace bargaining, but even good negotiations can reach an impasse. “You need a process to get you over that last hump.”
The committee approved both bills, which go next to the House Education Finance Committee.