FARGO — Although teachers currently serve on a Fargo school safety committee, their input will be guaranteed in future years by putting it into a two-year contract currently being negotiated.
The Fargo School Board's negotiating panel started Wednesday night's session by announcing the change of heart on the issue after the teachers' union last week released anonymous stories from teachers and support staff about harrowing descriptions of violence that they and students faced in the classroom.
The stories were part of a survey the Fargo Education Association conducted last winter.
"The safety of our staff and students will always be the priority of the board,'" lead school board negotiator John Rodenbiker said as the meeting started. "And we all expect it will be a topic of concern and it should be a topic of discussion and concern. We've been listening to you. So in the last week we worked hard to respect your concerns and find a solution."
However, final contract language on the safety issue wasn't determined in Wednesday's three-hour meeting as the two sides haggled over wording changes after several private discussions outside the negotiating room.
One part of the wording that drew the night's only round of applause from the 50 teachers listening to negotiations was a line added by their representatives who said they wanted to see an annual review of the school's policy that covers the bulk of student behavioral issues.
The board rejected that language following one of its private discussions. However, FEA President-elect Dave Marquardt said before applause broke out, "You have 800 people that are telling us that this is a serious issue, and that's why we want it to be reviewed yearly."
He was referring to the staff survey which found almost all had faced intimidation or actual violence in their classrooms. As of May 6, Fargo Public Schools recorded 630 student behavioral incidents this school year in which a staff member was harmed, according to school data. That surpassed last year’s count of 583.
Rodenbiker said they could ask the administration to look into the annual review requirement. He said there is currently a three-year cycle to review major school policies.
That's done to guarantee school policies always face review, he said.
Board member Jennifer Benson added she would make sure the issue is discussed in upcoming board committee meetings and with top staff.
Rodenbiker added that if any teacher has a safety concern they should bring it to individual board members, the safety committee or the administration.
"We want the input of our teachers," he said.
It's expected the measure could be finalized at the next negotiating meeting on June 3.
The board also talked briefly about salaries and preparation and planning time for teachers, but made no decisions.
Apparently, the school and the teachers group were working from different numbers on expected revenue and fixed expenses for the coming two years. Teachers are asking for a 3% increase for salaries in the 2019-20 school year and 2% for 2020-21. The school board proposed, for the most part, a 1% increase in 2019-20 and a 1.5% jump in 2020-21. There are added increases for certain levels of education and years of experience, but overall, the proposal would mean a 3.05% increase in salary and benefits cost for 2019-20 and a 3.39% jump in 2020-21.
The North Dakota Legislature increased state aid per pupil this year by 2% in each of the coming two years.