FARGO — David Marquardt, president of the Fargo Education Association, announced during a meeting of the Fargo School Board Tuesday night, Dec. 10, that he was resigning from his job with the district to take a post with North Dakota United, a statewide, professional union of more than 11,500 educators and public employees.
Marquardt also shared with school board members feedback he received from FEA members in the wake of an email the school board recently sent to teachers as FEA and school board negotiators prepared to return to the bargaining table on Saturday, Dec. 7.
Marquardt said many teachers viewed the email as "insulting at best," and he said the communication did nothing but widen differences between the two sides, which have failed to reach agreement on a new teacher contract to replace one that expired last summer.
Marquardt said the email appeared designed to divide the union, "but all it did was anger us more."
Board members did not immediately respond to Marquardt's comments, but later in the meeting board member Brian Nelson said it was upsetting to hear the comments expressed by Marquardt and other educators.
"I truly believe we do care," Nelson said, adding, "I do, and that's a fact."
During Saturday's negotiation session, the first talks held between the two sides in months, a number of issues were resolved, but salary remained a sticking point.
The board proposed a 3% pay increase over the next two years, which some teachers said represented a step backward.
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.
With the contract differences left unresolved, Marqaurdt said Tuesday night that the school board has notified the North Dakota Education Fact-Finding Commission that talks are again at an impasse.
Marquardt said the FEA disputed that stand and that it would be up to the fact-finding commission to decide whether an impasse existed.
According to School Board President Robin Nelson, the commission notified the district on Wednesday, Dec. 11, that it had found that an impasse does exist.
Marquardt was not alone in addressing the school board Tuesday.
Nicole Beier, who described herself as a social studies teacher who was nominated in the past for teacher of the year and a mother of two children, told board members she recently took on a second job in order to help her family make ends meet.
"Please work with the FEA to come to a consensus," Beier said. "Stop holding teacher contracts hostage."
Marquardt, who has more than two decades of experience in teaching and coaching roles, said Tuesday he understands the frustration many educators feel, asserting that because of increases in what they pay toward health insurance premiums, a large percentage of teachers in the Fargo district are facing the challenge of seeing their net income stall, or, in some cases, go backwards.
"I'm not alone in what I have done," Marquardt told school board members in announcing his resignation.