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Votes today could end strike

Red Wing teachers will likely return to the classroom Thursday and students on Friday after representatives from the teachers' union and the school district reached a tentative settlement Tuesday afternoon.The pact not only is for 2001-03 but als...

Red Wing teachers will likely return to the classroom Thursday and students on Friday after representatives from the teachers' union and the school district reached a tentative settlement Tuesday afternoon.

The pact not only is for 2001-03 but also for 2003-05. The teachers went on strike Oct. 22; wages and health insurance were at the center of the impasse.

School Board Chairman Kevin Mark said the fact that students had begun to enroll in other districts added a sense of urgency to discussions.

Neither side disclosed specifics, pending expected ratification by union membership and the School Board. The district's Web site said the pact would cover four years. Red Wing teachers have been working without a contract since July 2001, and both sides faced the prospect of coming back to the table next spring to begin negotiating the 2003-05 contract.

Teachers were scheduled to vote on the proposal this afternoon, and the School Board at 5 p.m. today at the district offices at the high school.

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The tentative settlement comes as the district is preparing to seek additional operating funds from voters in a Dec. 17 referendum.

Representatives from the union and the school district reached agreement at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, after more than two hours of discussion. The two sides met for some seven hours Monday with the discussion focusing on health insurance. It was in that session, Mark said, that the teachers and the district covered much of the ground necessary to reach a settlement.

Working in what Mark called subgroups, union and district negotiators spent much of Monday's and Tuesday's sessions exploring alternatives to the two sides' stated positions. Though he offered no specifics about the tentative agreement, Mark said both sides agreed to changes to the current health insurance.

Wolter said Tuesday morning that the sides were searching for a "middle ground," a plan that both the teachers and the district could live with. A few hours later she said the two sides had seemingly found just that.

The tentative agreement was put before the union's negotiating committee and executive council, who then decided it should go to the full membership for a vote.

Statutory debt  The district is in statutory operating debt and has a deficit of about $1.3 million. The board had proposed changes to the teachers' health insurance that would cap the district's maximum contribution in an effort to trim costs. The district currently pays full single coverage and 75 percent of family coverage. The union wanted no change to the existing package.

Union leaders had expressed frustration that they have a health care package that they say is inferior to district administrators' package.

A recent district proposal would have provided all district employees with a uniform health-care package. Contracts with several other bargaining units remain unsettled, but Mark said the board remains interested in implementing one package for all employees.

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The district has stated that class time lost to a strike would not be made up. The teachers have been pressing for the days to be made up. The agreement reportedly addresses makeup days, but details were not available.

Bob Burroughs can be reached at burroughs@republican-eagle.com or or 388-2914, ext. 122.

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