The cover of the new agreement between ATP and the Petersburg School Board. (Denning/KFSK)

Petersburg teachers have a new labor agreement with the school district. The new contract covers the next three years until the spring of 2024 and gives teachers a small raise each year. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

Ginger Evens volunteered to co-lead the Associated Teachers of Petersburg in negotiations this year because she says contract language is important. When she started teaching in Petersburg 26 years ago things like paternity leave weren’t really a thing.

“Through the course of my time here, we’ve been able to change that language a couple of times to reflect the change in societal norms, making sure we are inclusive of everybody,” Evens said. “That’s important because it’s a reflection of our times.”

Teachers will have more days available for sick leave and personal days. Sick leave for family members has gone from 8 to 10 days and sick days that can be used for paternity leave have gone from 15 to 20 days.

If teachers don’t use all their personal days they can cash out some at the end of the year and that amount was raised from $140 to $250 per day.

Negotiations took a few months because there was a three week break in the middle during a community COVID outbreak. Evens says negotiations still went really well and ended up equitable for all teachers.

The contract adds language providing all teachers with at least 180 minutes a week for prep time.

“This was something we’ve been working on and we know the needs of each building’s really different,” she said. “So, we really do look at it from a K-12 perspective to make sure that it’s going to be a benefit that will be as equitable as possible for all members.”

Sarah Holmgrain agrees that negotiations went well. She is the president of the school board.

“I think it’s a pretty fair contract on both sides of the table,” she said.

She says the challenge of the agreement is coming up with a balance of what the district can afford while also respecting the teachers.

“We want to be able to reward their unusually hard work over the last school year and then into this one,” said Holmgrain. “I think it’s important to feel valued at the end of the day.”

Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter says the budget should be roughly the same as it was last year despite the new contract but like every year it’s not easy creating budgets when you don’t have all the numbers yet. State funding is tied to enrollment, which isn’t known until the fall.

“That’s the challenging part of schools  is your making a budget in the spring based on a number that you won’t know until the end of October and that seems always so backwards. So, it makes it tricky; it makes it challenging,” Kludt-Painter said. “We always appreciate it when everybody’s looking at that and having all the same information moving forward so we’re trying to make those reasonable decisions together so that it works out best for the students, which is the whole focus.”

The new agreement gives teachers a one percent raise for each of the next three school years.

Under next year’s salary schedule, a new hire teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience, could start out at just over $46,000 a year. The most experienced and highly educated teachers could make nearly $87,000 a year.

Evens says the one percent raise is reasonable considering a lower student population due to COVID and the financial uncertainty with state and federal funding.

“We always try to look at what can the district really afford and is this something that is going to help our members. . . and any little bit always helps,” she said. “It’s a hard thing because you always would like a little bit more of a raise but at the same time it does show that the district does honor and respect the work that teachers are doing.”

Evens is retiring this spring after two and a half decades with the school district. Still, she decided to volunteer in the union  because she says she cares about other teachers in the district.

“This is important and I think teachers in Petersburg have a really good contract moving forward,” she said. “Working with the superintendent and with the board and having a contract that we can be proud of.”

In the new agreement, extra duty contract stipends will remain flat for all three years but extra duty contracts were added for Robotics, Glacier Survey, and E sports.

Other language changes allow some certifications to count towards course credits for career and technical staff. For example, a welding certification would count like other college credits allowing those teachers to move up the salary schedule like everyone else.