District 911 to hire attorney for union negotiations

The Cambridge-Isanti School Board will hire an attorney to handle its collective bargaining unit negotiations.

During the school board meeting Thursday, Aug. 23, Board Member Jeanette Polzin brought up a proposal to put into practice the hiring of an attorney for negotiations for the collective bargaining units within District 911.

Polzin said she talked to the Hinckley School District superintendent, who said they’ve been using a negotiating attorney for 15 years, and the North Branch superintendent said the district is beginning their third cycle of using a negotiating attorney.

“The employee unions’ representatives are very well trained negotiators,” Polzin said. “We don’t have the training they have when going to the negotiating table. The union representatives are bargaining for units all over the state. The school board needs a trained representative at the table.”

Polzin said the attorney would be a buffer between the board and the staff, and the longer the negotiations go on, the more contentious it is between the board and the staff.

“This practice would have the attorney be a spokesperson, while three board members, and the superintendent (or a designee) sit in on the negotiations,” Polzin said. “The purpose of having an attorney would be having a buffer between the school board and their employees.”

Polzin noted District 911 Education Minnesota negotiations took more than 10 meetings before mediation was started. When other districts negotiated with an attorney, it was only two meetings before mediation was started.

Polzin noted other factors for using an attorney were:

• Negotiations with an attorney are done more professionally and are resolved more quickly.

• Negotiations with an attorney are more consistent over time.

• Board members are not the same year after year for long periods of time.

• Relationships are built with the attorney.

• Attorneys are professional and

professionally trained in negotiations.

• Attorneys negotiate for other school districts and know all of the legal aspects and know where negotiations are trending.

Polzin noted the district is currently spending $18,000 in attorney fees.

She said the district will save money using a negotiating attorney. If the district would have gotten a .5 percent further reduction off of salaries during negotiations, the district would have saved $132,000; if the district would have gotten a 1 percent further reduction off salaries it would have saved $265,000.

Board member Jenni Caulk said having a negotiating attorney would be helpful, and right now the district doesn’t have an attorney involved until mediation.

“I think there were times in initial meetings with certain groups where we had questions and we needed an attorney there,” Caulk said. “Especially for me, being new to negotiations, it would have been helpful to have an attorney present.”

Board Member Anne Nelson said she liked the idea of having a consistent attorney for negotiations, noting how school board members do change.

Board Member Lynn Wedlund wasn’t in favor of the idea.

“I like to think we are kind of an education family and working with all the people in our school district,” Wedlund said. “I think we have to be a little careful with this, and we have to realize we are losing part of our personal contact with the groups.”

Following discussion, the board approved a motion by a vote of 6-1 to put into practice the hiring of an attorney to handle collective bargaining unit negotiations beginning with the next round of negotiations. Board member Wedlund voted against.

Superintendent Evaluation

Board Member Nelson presented the 2011-12 superintendent’s evaluation for Bruce Novak. The School Board Human Resources Committee consists of Nelson, Polzin and Wedlund.

The evaluation consists of input from the school board, district administrators, principals, Education Minnesota Cambridge-Isanti, community leaders and Novak’s own self-evaluation.

“You continue to demonstrate your commitment to students in a variety of ways throughout the district,” Nelson read from the evaluation. “Whether it is attending community events, school sports and activities, or an internal staff meeting, you extend and reach out in these areas on a very regular basis.  The creation of the Parent Advisory Group is a big step towards increased community engagement. Visibility within the schools themselves continues to be a discussion point. We discussed the fact that you do visit the schools on a fairly regular basis, however these visits could be treated as more of an opportunity for engagement with the staff directly.”

Nelson noted the majority of the feedback ratings for the evaluation fell between 3.8 and 4.8 out of 5.

Contracts Approved

Board Member Tim Hitchings presented the master agreement between the district and its district administrators, directors and managers for the contract period of July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2013.

He explained the agreement is for six different individual contracts under one collective bargaining unit. The contracts are for the transportation director, food service director, technology director, buildings and grounds director, district accountant and human resources manager.

Hitchings explained the total package increase over two years is 7.03 percent with a 4 percent increase in salary over the two years; and a 3 percent increase in the benefits portion of the contract.

“This group was a very good group to work with,” Hitchings noted. “There was a lot of give and take, but we all worked toward what is in the best interest of the district.”