FARGO — Fargo teacher contract talks will be taking the summer off as both sides couldn't agree on pay for the next two years.
The school board negotiators offered to meet again in mid-June at the final scheduled negotiating session that went on for three hours on Monday night, June 3, but the Fargo Education Association representing the teachers said that their team was busy with numerous summer activities and that they couldn't meet again until Aug. 26.
Lead school board negotiator John Rodenbiker said it was "unfortunate" as they wanted the talks to continue sooner and to get "a new two-year contract done."
The teachers responded that they, too, want a two-year contract, but that their busy schedules this summer with people taking students on overseas cultural trips, summer camps, continuing education classes, child care and other activities would keep them from having time to meet again until late summer. They offered to stay later into the night, but the board refused.
As for the pay, there were a few counter proposals after the two groups met privately to discuss options.
The school board didn't budge much, however, as Rodenbiker said that he was only authorized by the board to offer a 1.1% increase the first year in base pay and 1.5% the second year.
He later told The Forum that when the step increases for years served and educational advancements by the teachers are added up, the overall salary and benefits would actually go up 3.05%, or $2.28 million, the first year and 3.39%, or $2.61 million, the second year .
FEA President David Marquardt and Vice President Jenifer Mastrud, however, said after the meeting that those figures aren't accurate as far as a pay increase as the figure also includes Social Security, pensions and other items not all associated with actual pay increases.
Rodenbiker and school board negotiator David Paulson, however, added that they have orders from the board to stick to their numbers as they are taking into consideration other budget pressures including inflation, market conditions and long-term financial health of the district.
The teachers, of course, have a different view. They had originally proposed a base salary increase of 3% the first year and 2% the second year.
On Monday night, they had a counter proposal of 2.5% the first year and 2% added to the base in the second year.
The pay for a starting teacher under the school board proposal would be $41,989 the first year and $42,619 the second year, while under the teachers' proposal it would be $42,570 the first year and $43,421 the second year.
Rodenbiker said the negotiators weren't authorized to accept that number, although the teacher negotiators said after the meeting that the school board negotiators could reach a tentative contract deal and then present it to the full board.
"That's the same as we could accept a deal and then bring it to our membership," Mastrud said.
Teachers went on the offensive earlier in the meeting, quoting school board members and Gov. Doug Burgum about the need to pay teachers adequately.
The teachers in the audience at the negotiating session exploded in applause when they put Burgum's quote up on a projector screen that said, "Teachers are the among the most important and hardest working people in our state. They work every day with our most important resource which is our children . . . So it is very important we keep investing in our teachers."
Burgum's thoughts on teacher salaries added that the 2% increase in state aid to schools in the basic foundation aid each of the next two years be used to increase teacher pay.
The teacher negotiators also showed a slide that said the state's education department said over the past five years or so, the salaries of administrators went up to from 10.3% of school budgets to 11.8% or a gain of 1.5%, while teacher pay during the same period dropped from 58.3% to 57.3%, a decline of 1%.
Mastrud also told the board that Fargo teachers have fallen further behind other districts in the state as they have dropped from 17th in salary and to 24th in starting base salary among the state's more than 200 school districts.
Teacher negotiator Grant Kraft said he was troubled and disheartened that the board didn't have a counter proposal ready to offer the teachers.
"Ultimately this board is going to have to decide where you are going to invest money," Kraft said. "That's a difficult decision, but we believe that your teachers are the greatest resource that this school district can offer."
"I don' think the 1% salary proposal attracts and retains employees to the fullest extent," he said.
Rodenbiker responded that employee pay and benefits account for 79% to 80% of the school overall budget.
"I think that's a significant investment in our people," he said.