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Duluth teachers' contracts approved

What Duluth teachers are paid has been settled for the next four years following approval by the Duluth School Board Tuesday night.

The two contracts — with increases over four years that total about $3 million — were approved 6-1, with board member Harry Welty opposing the measure.

Approved in the first contract were increases of 1 percent in 2017 and 1.5 percent in 2018. In the second contract, which runs from 2019 to 2021, increases of 2 percent each year were approved. Also in the contract were small increases for experience, a slightly higher rate of pay for new teachers and steps added to the salary schedule to reduce a jump in pay at a couple of different points.

Welty, who sat in on negotiations, said he had intended to vote for the contracts, but decided against it considering the teachers union's stated goals during those negotiations of wanting to work to better meet the mental and emotional needs of kids.

"It is my sense that the finances of our district are such that (the contract increases) will make doing student-centered advocacy more difficult," he said.

Most other board members said there was give and take from both sides, and were pleased with the results.

The board acted on several other notable measures Tuesday night. Here's what happened:

A plan to balance the coming year's budget and fix a $1.9 million shortfall was approved 6-1, with member Alanna Oswald opposing. A large part of that — $700,000 — is filling vacated positions with cheaper new hires. The plan also includes job reductions in facilities management and in the areas of curriculum and special education. Seventeen non-tenured teachers were laid off. The majority were hired last August and most will be re-hired later in the summer, said Tim Sworsky, human resources manager for the district.

Also approved — unanimously — was an amendment to the budget that was proposed by member Art Johnston that says the district will take a multi-year approach to aligning compensatory education funding with the schools that generate the money. The state funding is allotted to schools with amounts based on their rates of kids enrolled in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. School districts are allowed to move up to half from each school for various other uses, and the district has done that to lower class sizes throughout the district. But in light of equity concerns between Denfeld and East high schools, board members are exploring changing that model.

Member Nora Sandstad said the district needs to look at not only getting money to the right places, "but spending it well. Ensuring kids are making it to school, making it to school healthy and ensuring they are able to learn and be successful and ultimately able to graduate."

Chairman David Kirby said the outcomes of such a decision need to be evaluated, "because there will be consequences to other schools."

Superintendent Bill Gronseth said it's a move the district has been looking at, but he noted some of that money also supports the curriculum department and staff development. He said he hoped the board would consider that in its discussions.

The rubber playground mulch project will commence, at a cost of about $1 million. The board voted unanimously to replace the mulch, which is under study by federal agencies for potential toxicity. The project had been recast and rebid when board members deemed the initial cost of $1.2 million was too high. There is an expected October completion date.

A wellness policy was approved that says all physical activity, and food served in schools or brought into schools must meet USDA guidelines.

Some audience members advocated to keep Laura MacArthur Elementary principal Nathan Glockle at the school, as opposed to his reassignment to Stowe Elementary. His reassignment did not change.

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