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Wrenshall teachers voice concerns ahead of contract mediation

A handful of teachers attended the district's school board meeting, wearing black and had one representative speak to the school board about the teacher's concerns over contract negotiations.

Wrenshall School
Wrenshall School.
Clint Austin / 2021 File / Duluth News Tribune
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WRENSHALL — Teachers made some concerns heard during the open forum section of the district's Monday, Feb. 14, school board meeting.

One representative spoke on behalf of the teachers, while others stood in support and all wore black for the occasion.

With Board member Alice Kloepfer still recovering from her case of COVID-19 and unable to attend meetings since November, the board appointed a temporary member until Kloepfer can return or her term ends.

Suzy Berger, a teacher in the district, spoke about concerns regarding contract negotiations.

After several months of negotiations, Berger said, the district and the union have not been able to come to an agreement, and now contract talks have entered mediation.

"Over the years, we have watched millions of dollars invested into the infrastructure," she said. "It is also necessary to invest in supporting and retaining dedicated experienced staff."

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Berger said teachers do more than just work in the classroom, but pay for their own supplies, plan lessons outside of work and often have long commutes to get to the district.

She also mentioned how teachers had to change how they teach on a dime when COVID-19 restrictions came into place.

Substitute teacher pay, masking and isolation changes and vaccination requirements were action items at the Wrenshall School Board meeting Monday evening.

"Since then, the challenges of educating our students have piled up," she said.

With the pandemic, Berger said, teachers have put their own mental and physical health aside to be there for their students.

"Asking for a fair contract is not just about the money," she said. "A fair contract shows our teachers they are valued and supported."

Superintendent Kimberly Belcastro said the mediation session is set for March 15.

"I am hopeful we will get to the end of that, and get that contract settled," she said.

Enrollment down

In other district news, Belcastro noted the district's enrollment had dropped to 355 students, compared to 366 at the start of the year.

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"It was down a little more than I would have liked," she said.

Belcastro said at least three of the students who dropped from the district did so because of the mask mandate implemented at the end of last year.

As the mandate is no longer in place, Belcastro hopes to speak with the families to see if they would be interested in coming back.

Bullying

The board also formally responded to letters sent to members from students who felt bullied.

The response stated the board heard the students, and plan to improve the situation by holding an inclusivity training session.

The training will be held for staff and board members before being held for students, which Belcastro said might not happen this school year.

The training drew some concern from attendees, who felt the school should focus on traditional education like mathematics, English and science.

Student survey

Another issue brought up during the meeting was the state Department of Educations' Minnesota Student Survey, which some board members and attendees felt the district should not participate in.

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While the survey is anonymous and students or their parents can choose to opt out, board members felt the survey had manipulative or invasive questions.

The survey is intended to gain insights into the climate in school districts across the state about things ranging from mental health, to alcohol and drug usage to sexual activity.

Belcastro said the district receives grant funding as an incentive to participate in the survey, and some positions in the district use the funding.

As the survey is held once every three years, board members felt it should be something evaluated to see if the district should continue to participate in it.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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