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Playing Nice

Although labor disputes between teachers' unions and school officials can often be messy, negotiators for the 500-student Houston, Minn., district decided to play nice this fall when a sticking point came up.

Instead of taking the district to court for a contract violation, the Houston Education Association wanted to find a more productive way to settle the issue. The union asked district leaders last month to buy $10,000 worth of playground equipment for the district's only elementary school. And the southeastern Minnesota district agreed.

The dispute arose after the district placed a newly hired teacher too high on the pay scale, based on giving her credit for her nonteaching experience. The placement violated the contract, the union and the district agree.

The National Education Association affiliate had prepared the paperwork and was poised to file a lawsuit charging unfair labor practices when it decided to find a "very unique way" to resolve the issue, said Krin Abraham-Berg, the union's co-president.

"We have a tangible result," Ms. Abraham-Berg said, instead of what might have been a tense, drawn-out, and expensive process for the district. "If we would have gone to court, it would have been a cash expenditure without much reward."

The union arrived at the $10,000 amount because it figured that was how much the district would have to have spent on legal fees.

"Instead of having district money go to legal fees, it might as well go to the kids," Ms. Abraham-Berg said. "We wanted the kids to benefit."

The union suggested that the district buy playground equipment because such needs are often overshadowed by more pressing demands, such as books and supplies, Ms. Abraham- Berg said. Some of the equipment on Houston Elementary School's playground is 30 years old, she noted.

The district has no qualms about the settlement, which included an admission on its part that it had overpaid the teacher and an adjustment of her pay.

"It's easier than going to court," said Superintendent Kim Ross. "It's a better outcome for all parties involved."

The new equipment has arrived and awaits installation.

Said Ms. Abraham-Berg: "We're just waiting for a weekend when teachers, board members, and administrators will all work to put the playground equipment in together."

—Nashiah Ahmad

Vol. 22, Issue 12, Page 3

Published in Print: November 20, 2002, as Take Note

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