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Teachers voice negotiation concerns with Duluth School Board

More than 70 teachers clad in red T-shirts gathered at Denfeld High School on Tuesday to address issues between the Duluth Federation of Teachers and the district.

Teachers dressed in red shirts and sweatshirts stand while each teacher addresses the Duluth School Board
Teachers dressed in red shirts and sweatshirts stand while each teacher addresses the Duluth School Board with concerns about contract negotiations at the regular board meeting Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The Denfeld High School media center on Tuesday night was filled with approximately 70 red-shirt-clad teachers who wanted to send a message that contract negotiations between the school district and the Duluth Federation of Teachers have not been going well.

Negotiations for a two-year contract have been ongoing since September. Representatives who spoke during the public comment section of the School Board meeting said progress was "extremely slow."

"It can best be described as frustrating when one considers what teachers have managed to accomplish within the past two years through a global pandemic," said Jim Jubenville, a teacher at Merritt Creek Academy and co-facilitator of the labor management committee. "When the negotiations are so slow, it sends the wrong message to professionals who are already feeling underappreciated. I sadly do not think our teachers are feeling valued as members of Duluth Public Schools right now."

One of the main concerns raised by the teachers was the absence of School Board members and the superintendent at the negotiating table. The district is being represented by John Edison, an attorney at Anderson, Squires & Waldspurger of the Twin Cities.

Ethan Fisher, president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers, addresses the Duluth School Board
Ethan Fisher, president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers, addresses the Duluth School Board with concerns about the contract negotiation process Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

"I've been on the negotiation team for 20 years and I've helped negotiate 10 contracts," fourth grade teacher Cindy Jamar said. "And I know that in that time, there has always been a board member present to listen to both sides of the table in the process. I think it's hugely important that you have representation there.


"This is also the first time that a superintendent has not been at the negotiating table," she said. We need you there, John (Magas)."

In a later presentation to the board about contract negotiations, Edison defended the move to not have the superintendent or board members present.

"I heard a lot of comments about the board not being adequately informed, but we've had several closed-door sessions discussing what's going on at the bargaining table," Edison said. "At the end of the day, each party has the right to choose who is going to be on their bargaining team. And I'll say there are a lot of members on the DFT's bargaining team and I haven't said anything about that. I'd ask them to extend the same courtesy."

The teachers also raised issues with the district's proposed salary increases, changes to the language around preparation times and with the district choosing to bring these items to the contract negotiating table instead of allowing the labor management process to deal with the items.

The union is asking for a 3.5% increase in pay for both years of the contract; the district is proposing 1.5%.

"Our present worth is valued at a 1.5% raise at a time when we're seeing record numbers of teachers leave the field due to the conditions," DFT secretary Catherine Nachbar said. "A new-hire teacher is at 8% above the poverty line. A 1.5% raise is a clear message that we and our work are not valued."

Edison took issue with the DFT having made an initial proposal for 2.3% and 2.08% increases initially in November, then raising its proposal to 4% and 3.5% increases for the two years of the contract.

"That's not how this works," Edison said. "We're supposed to work towards an agreeable amount, not come back with even higher proposals."


Teachers file into the Denfeld High School media center during a Duluth School Board meeting
Wearing matching red T-shirts and sweatshirts, teachers file into the Denfeld High School media center Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, to show solidarity and raise issues with the contract negotiation process.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

Another major sticking point between the parties regards preparation time. Teachers are contracted to have one period of preparation time per day. The district proposed to change it to five minutes of preparation for every 30 minutes of contact time, with a cap at 60 minutes. This preparation time could also be split into 30-minute segments rather than kept whole as one period.

Secondary teachers also have a zero-hour period in which they have time to collaborate with other teachers and work on professional development or preparation. The district proposed allowing some of the zero hours per week to be considered assignable time. Edison argued that he doesn't know of any other district in the state where teachers get essentially two periods of prep time.

"What audacity to suggest that we should have more assignable time in our workdays. It's beyond insulting," Nachbar said. "I don't know of any teacher who feels like they have too much prep time. We often spend our weekends working to ensure we have things set up for our lessons. We should be ensured uninterrupted prep time."

No School Board members commented Tuesday about the teachers' concerns or Edison's report and no action was taken. The union and the district will meet again to negotiate Feb. 2.

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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