Teacher’s union voices concerns with district hiring attorney for negotiations

Will hiring an attorney to handle union negotiations for the school district potentially strain relationships between the school board and teacher’s union?

Education Minnesota Cambridge-Isanti (EMCI), the teacher’s union, thinks it could, and would like the school board to rescind action from its Aug. 23 meeting that authorized the hiring of an attorney to handle negotiations for the collective bargaining units within District 911.

During a special Cambridge-Isanti School Board meeting Monday, Feb. 11, Carol Hazard, co-president of EMCI, read a prepared statement on behalf of the teacher’s union.

Hazard said the teachers in the district “strive to create collaborative relationships with their students, with parents, with administrators and with one another. Our goal is to extend this collaboration to our relationship with the C-I school board.”

Hazard feels EMCI and the school board can professionally come to an agreement that is fair to both sides, and an outside attorney has no vested interest in the outcome for the community.

“We do business with one another, go to church together, and shop in the same stores,” Hazard said. “When an attorney represents the board relationships are built with the attorney and not with the staff. Additionally, relationships with attorneys are expensive. Money used to hire an attorney could be better used to help our students.”

Hazard said EMCI and the board should be able to amicably meet and come to an agreement.

“A buffer between the board and the staff is counter to the intent of a school board’s role in the community,” Hazard said. “If a lawyer is hired what is the responsibility of the board in collective bargaining? Open dialog between units will lead to better long-term trust and foster cooperation.”

Hazard noted teachers and the school board have a history of coming together to solve problems.

“In the past the professional staff has worked collaboratively with the school board and the community to develop the “5 Character Traits” program, passed successful operating levies, and produced excellent extracurricular programs for our kids,” she said.

Since Hazard spoke during the open forum, no discussion or action was taken by the school board.

Funding options for school improvements

Patricia Heminover, with Springsted Incorporated in St. Paul, provided options for the board regarding financing options for $13 to $14 million in needed school improvements.

At previous board meetings, Building and Grounds Director Mark Eisenbacher has presented information to the board regarding improvements that need immediate attention.

The improvements impact all the school district buildings and are needed due to the health, safety, welfare, security and efficiency of the students and school buildings.

Eisenbacher described them as “big ticket” items—with one of the more expensive items including $4.5 million to replace the entire ventilation system at Isanti Middle School. Other projects include office relocations to allow for better security monitoring when visitors enter and leave school buildings.

“All of the $14 million projects are related to supporting a good, healthy learning environment for our students,” Eisenbacher noted.

Heminover presented options to the board including going out for $8 million or $10 million voter-approved general obligation school building bonds. Heminover explained these two options would have “little” or “no” tax impact on debt service to the taxpayers, and the bonds would be for 20 years.

However, with this option, board members voiced concerns that the ballot has language at the top of it that states to voters that by voting “yes” on the bonds, they are voting for a tax increase.

“We would really have to explain this to the community that this is for heath and safety issues,” said Board Member Lynn Wedlund. “The fact that these two options have no tax impact is very good news to me. We would really have to go out into our communities and explain this. This sounds like a good way to get some very needed projects done, with little impact to the community.”

Heminover also provided information on going out for a voter-approved capital project referendum, where the district would ask voters to approve $1 million per year for 10 years.

Under this scenario, if a home had an estimated market value of $100,000, the tax increase would be $14 per year for 10 years. If a home was valued at $150,000, the tax increase would be $25 per year for 10 years.

One other scenario Heminover presented was the district going out for $3,065,000 in general obligation alternative facilities bonds. Under this option, voter approval is not necessary. Heminover explained school districts have a right to levy this funding for health and safety projects.

With this option, a home valued at $100,000 would see a tax increase of $13, and a home valued at $150,000 would see a tax increase of $23.

The board did not make any decisions following the discussion. However, it did  request Heminover bring back information on going out for $13 million or $14 million general obligation school building bonds and provide information on what the potential tax increases would be on taxpayers.

Heminover indicated she would provide the board with the requested information, and another discussion is planned at the Feb. 21 regular school board meeting.