CEA’s new insurance plan will benefit district, board members say

    There were smiles all around at a packed Crookston School Board meeting Monday attended by several members of the Crookston Education Association, the teachers’ bargaining unit that earlier in the day voted to ratify a new, two-year contract with the school board, for the current school year as well as the 2018-19 school year. The teachers had been working without a contract since the summer of 2017.

    The school board has scheduled a special meeting for 7:15 a.m. Thursday in the CHS district office conference room, and all signs are pointing to the board following the CEA’s lead and approving the contract agreement.

    Board Chair Frank Fee, in thanking CEA negotiators, in particular, lead negotiator Sara Geist, for their time and effort in coming to a settlement, noted that Superintendent Chris Bates had mentioned that the agreement might be “historic” in nature, most notably because the CEA had agreed to switch insurance providers, from the Northwest Service Cooperative pool to the Public Employee Insurance Plan (PEIP), a plan open to public employees like police officers and firefighters.

    The insurance change, Fee said, “Could certainly help the board and district in the future, and could make future negotiations go smoother.”

    Board and CEA negotiators months ago declared they were at an impasse and sought the services of a state mediator. Two sessions were conducted with the mediator, and a handshake agreement was reached on March 16.

    Board member Kari Miller, who negotiated on behalf of the board with Tim Dufault, told CEA members in attendance Monday that she knows change is never easy, but that the CEA changing its insurance to PEIP will be a “big benefit” to the district.

    Dufault echoed Miller’s sentiments. “The way it was, we wish we could have kept it, but it had become untenable,” he said. “The CEA should be proud of your negotiators; they really worked hard and put in a lot of time trying to work toward the best outcome.”

    Fee noted that Geist was an “absolute joy to work with,” and that she taught him “some stuff” during the negotiations. “She knows her stuff, and she’s very professional,” Fee said.

    Geist, along with CEA member Kim Davidson, thanked board members, Bates and Business Manager Laura Lyczewski for their efforts.

    Other than the insurance change, no details of the new contract, such as teacher pay, have been discussed publicly. Fee said board members would speak in more detail about the contract after Thursday’s special meeting.