FARGO — Dozens of teachers and concerned members of the Fargo school community packed into the Fargo Public Schools district office to hear the school board and teachers discuss their contracts.
The two sides have been at odds for nearly a year, and on Saturday, Dec. 7, they met for the first time in three months.
One of the first issues they resolved was leave time for when teachers are hurt on the job by a student.
The board agreed to bank 200 days for that, so teachers wouldn't have to use any of their own sick leave, and both sides said they were satisfied with that outcome.
"We're very happy with that coming forward and agreeing on both sides with that, along with the safety language from before, so definitely some good gains this year," said David Marquardt, the president of the Fargo Education Association.
"We absolutely value the safety of our employees, and that was important for us to make some progress on that today," said John Rodenbiker, vice president of the Fargo Board of Education.
But the biggest question left unanswered is how much teachers will be paid.
The board proposed a 3% salary increase over the next two years, which some teachers believe is a step backward.
"You have ignored the problem that exists where beginning and veteran teachers are going backwards in terms of take home pay each year," said Grant Kraft of the Fargo Education Association, reading a prepared statement.
Teachers countered with adding $500,000 to the district's budget, but the board said that would put them at $1.6 million dollars in debt next year, and $1.7 million the following year.
"We didn't see any way for us to absorb those deficits without negatively impacting our teachers and our students' learning environments," Rodenbiker said.
This brought negotiations to standstill yet again, and an uneasy feeling fell over the room.
"We really don't want to start up again in a few weeks to start the next contract," Marquardt said, "so hopefully we get a two-year contract."
That goal will have to wait for now, as the school board will call the state Monday, Dec. 9, to start a fact-finding investigation, which could take up to 40 days.
If both sides can't come to an agreement after the investigation, the district will have the right to impose contracts on teachers.