By Gloria Lloyd
Negotiations between the Mehlville School District and teachers seem to have gone smoother than last year, and the Board of Education approved an agreement last week.
Members of the Mehlville National Education Association were set to vote on the contract Wednesday — after the Call went to press.
If teachers approve the memorandum of understanding, or MOU, they will get the standard 1.3-percent step raise, which will cost roughly $1 million annually, and a $500 increase to the base salary, which will cost roughly $425,000 a year.
Although board members have approved the MOU in open session in the past, they approved it unanimously in closed session 5-0. Board President Samantha Stormer believes the MNEA will also sign on.
“I think everybody felt it was productive and everything went well,” Superintendent Chris Gaines said. “They worked together to solve problems and work on language instead of going back and forth. We gave them the ability to cast the document on the screen and let’s work on it right here. Let’s talk about stuff.”
So far, things appear much smoother than last year, when the board took the unprecedented step of emailing individual teachers a detailed outline of what they had offered to the MNEA. But the email was accidentally sent to the district’s public email list.
After a committee met last fall to consider whether to switch to the MNEA’s preferred form of negotiating, interest-based bargaining, the district ultimately rejected moving to that system.
Stormer credits the smooth sailing this year to a clause in last year’s MOU that teachers submit their negotiation topics by Dec. 1. Everyone had the data and information to prepare ahead of time.
Without meeting after meeting spent on organizing data and bringing up new topics, the district could move on to substantial topics and modernizing the teacher agreement, Gaines said.
Mehlville convened a negotiating team of administrators this year that underwent professional training in negotiating, rather than sending in one administrator at a time based on the topic. That happened last year with Chief Financial Officer Marshall Crutcher, Assistant Superintendent Jeff Bresler and Executive Director of Human Resources Mark Catalana.
Bresler’s more constant presence throughout negotiations turned out to be a “huge asset” for the district, Stormer said.
“He’s great with people and can relate on all levels – teacher, principal, administrator,” she said.
The district also went in with ranges on what to offer so that there was some room for negotiating, whereas in past years there might have been harder lines that didn’t allow any creativity, Stormer said.
And while the district had rejected interest-based bargaining, the team was able to compromise with teachers by pulling in some aspects of that bargaining style that teachers liked.
During his unsuccessful campaign for the board this year, former board President Ron Fedorchak criticized the way negotiations are conducted and said the district should return to the type of negotiating he tried to implement when he was on the board, with an attorney representing the district. Bresler and Catalana are married to district teachers.
But Stormer sees no reason to change a system that’s working.
“If this is how it’s going to go, I’m good with us,” she said.