FARGO — Teachers told Fargo School Board negotiators in contract talks Monday, April 29, that conditions in their classrooms were declining every year and instructors were facing violence regularly because of student behavioral problems.
They asked that the board include in a new two-year contract that they would not have to use sick time if they need treatment for injuries, either physical or mental. They also asked for a short-term disability plan and to be more involved in developing and implementing safety training practices.
Teacher negotiator David Marquardt said the board had been given notice three years ago that there were problems.
He presented a survey of the approximately 850 teachers in the Fargo Education Association union with 70 percent saying they were intimidated or fearful in their classrooms.
About half said they had been "hurt" in their classrooms, with others saying they were physically injured and missed from one to even 10 days of work or suffered mental trauma, as did the students.
The survey also found that 63 percent said there were no "set procedures" in their classrooms when incidents occur, with 76 percent saying there was no consistency in procedures. Also, 81 percent said they had been in a situation where there was a lockdown in the classroom taking away educational time.
However, on a more promising note, 67 percent said they felt like they had administrative support when problems occurred.
School board negotiators, led by John Rodenbiker, went into a private caucus to discuss the proposals by the teachers' group.
They returned and asked about the possibilities of using workers' compensation, if student behavioral specialists hired by the district were helping, if there were better numbers of the incidents and if a mental health program the school provides to employees through the Village Family Service Center was helping.
Teachers responded by saying there was a five-day waiting period before workers' comp kicked in, with negotiator Jenifer Mastrud adding that teachers and paraprofessionals were being told to use sick leave if they missed work.
Education Association President Laura Haugen Christensen said during a break in the more than two-hour-long meeting that they realize this is an ongoing nationwide problem, but she doesn't see why the Fargo district can't be a leader in "making the situation better."
She didn't like to say it but she said most of the problems were with students with special education needs. She said teachers and perhaps more so classroom assistants or paraprofessionals were being slapped, bitten or had things thrown at them.
It can be even more severe, as she knows of teachers who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the behavioral problems in the schools.
She said instructors don't want to blame the students but said something needs to be done and considers it the "top issue" facing the district.
The teacher group also presented a salary proposal to the board, which said they didn't have one of their own yet.
The teachers' plan calls for a 3 percent raise in the first year of a two-year contract in 2019-2020 and 2 percent in 2020-2021 with the cost to the district of $2.9 million the first year and $1.9 million the second year. The base salary would climb from $41,532 to $42,778 this fall and $43,634 in the fall of 2020.
The teachers said the rationale behind the 3 percent raise was to attract and retain teachers and to "help affirm the value of teachers after years of stagnant salary increases." They said the second-year raise would help with cost-of-living increases.
The teachers also wanted a special program that would cost just $95,000 to reward teachers who had been with the district for 18 years or more.
According to statistics from North Dakota United, the statewide public employees union, Fargo no longer ranks near the top in teacher pay. National statistics show the state as of 2018 was 35th in teacher pay.
The teachers also said they hoped to have a contract by the end of May to help retain teachers. Haugen Christensen also said they hoped to have a two-year contract instead of the one-year pacts the last three years.