ST. CLOUD (WJON News) - Teachers in 174 of the 328 public school districts in the state are working without a current contract. Officials say that is the highest number of teachers without a contract in late January in over 20 years.

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Denise Specht is the President of Education Minnesota. She says districts are in different stages of contract negotiations statewide, but there are some common sticking points holding up negotiations.

For one thing, health insurance companies are dramatically raising the cost of health care in many of our school districts. It creates a situation where a small raise proposed for the teachers is being nullified by a big increase in out-of-pocket insurance costs.

The process is further slowed by a number of changes made in the Minnesota Legislature. Now, staffing levels and paraprofessional benefits can be negotiated.

That's where we're seeing some of the slow pace. Things like staffing ratios, lowering class size, or improving working conditions. Maybe it's increasing mental health teams, or schools hiring more librarians, those things are permissible at the table. And those are just taking more time.

Specht says every district in the state is dealing with an educator shortage. She says the delays in contract negotiations are due, in part, to both sides taking the time needed to address proper staffing levels and providing the best education for students.

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