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Dickinson teacher negotiations reach new hurdle

Teacher negotiations between Dickinson Public School Board and Dickinson Education Association are ongoing, with PTO language for educators taking center stage.

Dickinson Public School Board member Michelle Orton reads over agenda documents during the Dickinson Public School/Dickinson Education Association meeting Wednesday, May 4, 2022, at the Professional Learning Lab.
Dickinson Public School Board member Michelle Orton reads over agenda documents during the Dickinson Public School/Dickinson Education Association meeting Wednesday, May 4, 2022, at the Professional Learning Lab. During the meeting, educators and administration discussed various items from PTO language to salaries.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press
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DICKINSON — In their fourth collective bargaining meeting since negotiations began on March 23, the Dickinson Public School Board recently met with the Dickinson Education Association (DEA) to review continued topics of discussion, including clearing up written language for PTO requests.

During the May 4 meeting, the two parties tabled the PTO and bereavement agenda item for the next meeting as they weren’t able to clarify the criteria for how time off can be approved or denied.

“... What are the rules we’re playing by? What are the criteria for approving or denying?” DEA member Karl Legget said. “... We want to make sure that the playing field is level for people across the district as we try (to) navigate through that.”

DPS Board Vice President Kim Schwartz agreed, but noted that due to the uniqueness of all the schools, there is not one set of uniform rules that can be used to cover every building.

Though Legget, a fourth grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, acknowledged that each school is different, he said that all schools lie within the DPS system.


Schwartz added that each school’s “guiding coalition” is different than the next.

Representatives from the DEA reiterated to the school board that they are worried about the lack of consistency and objectivity of approval.

In a phone conversation with President Shawna Knipp on Wednesday, May 11, she noted that the DEA wants the written language to be clarified a little more than just having one statement that says an administrator in the building can pre-approve time off.

“That wording isn't in the current contract that we are under, and we were hoping that we could keep that language out of it for the next contract here,” Knipp said.

Instead, the DEA is proposing that the school board moves forward with the blackout dates — which are the dates they are concerned about, Knipp said. Blackout dates are days issued by the school board that teachers are not able to request leave, unless it is approved by administration. These days range from early release days, parent-teacher conference days, the first five days or the last five days of the school year.

However, Knipp noted that there isn’t a set criteria that explains how the approval process works for requesting time off or denying leave.

“So we really don't know how one building to the next building will decide who gets approved and who doesn't, per se,” she said. “And we just wanted to make sure that it's equitable across the district; therefore, it would just be easier not to have that language in there.”

Knipp suggested that instead of denying one’s PTO, administration could work with those teachers and ask to have them take that time off at a different date. By making the language more specific, this would help open up communication between administration and educators, she added.


Superintendent Marcus Lewton noted that the agenda item, bereavement, is just clarifying the language within the school’s contracts. For example, if a teacher were to take a leave of absence for a funeral, that time would come out of their PTO.

“I think where it’s confused is (because) it used to be part of it, but now we have this PTO language and it's new. So we went from sick and personal leave to PTO,” Lewton said, explaining that some of the written language didn’t get cleaned up during that process.

Lewton added that the school board wants to make sure that PTO is approved so there isn’t a scenario where a school building has to shut down due to the lack of teachers present.

“... Their concern is just keeping the doors open and allowing the principal to be able to approve or disapprove and 99% of the times they get approved,” Lewton said.

Last year, the school district took on this new language of PTO instead of sick leave again for the second time after it was reversed the year before. Lewton added that this is the second year that they’re testing it out and it will be up to both parties to maintain or eliminate it as time goes on.

Knipp said that she hopes the two parties can come up with a more clear sense of that language during its next teacher negotiations meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 16, at the Professional Learning Lab.

Jackie Jahfetson is a graduate of Northern Michigan University whose journalism path began in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a freelancer for The Daily Mining Gazette. Her previous roles include editor-in-chief at The North Wind and reporter at The Mining Journal in Marquette, Mich. Raised on a dairy farm, she immediately knew Dickinson would be her first destination west as she focuses on gaining aptitude for ranch life, crop farming and everything agriculture. She covers hard news stories centered on government, fires, crime and education. When not fulfilling deadlines and attending city commission meetings, she is a budding musician and singer.
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