by NATHANIEL NELSON
Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) has officially finalized a new contract with the Winona Administrator’s Association (WAA). The highest paid bargaining group in the district, with employees who earn between $109,00 and $147,000 annually, began the negotiations by asking for a five-percent raise over two years. Over the next four months, they negotiated down to the district’s final offer –– a retroactive step increase and one-percent raise for the 2017-2018 year, and a retroactive step increase and two-percent raise in year two. According to director of human resources Emily Solheid, the WAA did not present a counter offer and was agreeable to the district’s last proposal. The three-percent increase on the salary schedules based on the seven administrators’ 2016-2017 contracts will cost roughly $21,000 over two years.
In total, the district budgeted roughly $4,700 for the raises –– only including a step increase for one eligible employee. However, the WAPS Negotiation Committee’s initial offer was over budget: a step increase in year one and a one-percent raise in both years one and two, with no retroactive pay.
The WAA includes only seven employees –– the principals and assistant principals of the district’s six schools. The seven employees include some of the highest paid employees in the district, with salaries over $100,000 including benefits. In the initial meeting, Mark Anderson and Dawn Lueck –– the union’s representatives –– requested a five-percent raise over two years, later elaborating that it would include a two-percent raise in year one and a three-percent raise in year two.
According to Solheid, the district presented an offer on April 2, 2019, providing a retroactive step increase and one-percent raise for the 2017-2018 year, and a retroactive step increase and two-percent raise for the 2018-2019 school year.
When the groups met earlier this month, the WAA members were reportedly agreeable to the offer, but they still had one chance to counter –– the groups were slated to meet again on Friday afternoon. However, according to members of the negotiations committee, the process was nearing its final steps.
“My own gut reaction is that we’re close,” said board member Karl Sonneman earlier last week. “We have one last negotiations meeting, and I’m hopeful we will be able to resolve this.”
On Friday, the board negotiations subcommittee met with representatives from the WAA and finalized the contracts for the next school year in a short 15-minute meeting. The negotiations are the second such process the district has conducted in recent months, with previous negotiations with the Winona Education Association wrapping up last November.
Those negotiations began in February of 2018, taking almost nine months and required a state mediator to break the impasse. In the end, the agreement gave teachers a 0.84-percent retroactive pay increase for last year and a 3.87-percent raise for the 2018-2019 school year, totaling $814,969.18 –– more than $300,000 over budget.
Sonneman explained that the largest of the union groups typically takes the longest for negotiations to be completed, but once an agreement is reached, it streamlines the process for later negotiations.
“The larger groups tend to be a lead, and they create a precedent,” Sonneman said. “Once you have precedence, you tend to work within it.”
The agreement for administrators is not far off from the WEA agreement: WAPS agreed to give teachers a 4.71-percent raise over two years, while the current tabled offer for WAA is a three-percent raise over two years. However, both agreements remain substantially higher than the district’s budgeted raises.
While the two contract agreements are now wrapped up for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years, more negotiations are not far off: according to board chair Nancy Denzer, negotiations for the 2019-2020 school year contracts could begin as soon as the end of the month.
The final contract has one last hurdle before it is confirmed, and it is expected to go before the board for ratification next Thursday. From there, the next round can begin immediately if the groups so choose.
“We were hoping to take the contract to the board and once it goes to the board for ratification, we will be going back and working on the contract for next year,” Denzer said.