Can they meet in the middle? Fargo School Board, teachers union mull compromise on pay

Fargo school board contract talks.jpg
Fargo School Board negotiators discuss teacher contract issues on May 21 with negotiators for the local teachers union, known as the Fargo Education Association. Forum file photo

FARGO — The Fargo School Board and the local teachers union are mulling a list of recommendations provided by a committee of mediators that aims to resolve issues that so far have stalled agreement on a new, two-year teacher contract, including recommendations on things like pay and teacher sick leave.

On the question of salary, the committee is recommending a compromise between the last proposals traded before contract talks were sent to mediation, when a difference of about $1.5 million in total costs existed between the two sides.

The committee is recommending increasing the value of the salary matrix by about $500,000 the first year of the contract and by $250,000 the second year, which the panel said are amounts that could be absorbed with changes to budget priorities.

The committee is also recommending that teachers should not have to use earned sick leave when missing work for injuries suffered at work.

The three-member committee was comprised of two mediation advisers, one selected from each side, and a mediation chairman, who was chosen collectively by the two mediation advisers.


The teachers union, known as the Fargo Education Association, chose Joe Kennedy, a former Fargo teacher, for its mediation adviser, and the school board chose retired Fargo school superintendent Jeffrey Schatz for its mediation adviser.

In turn, Kennedy and Schatz chose Ron Guggisberg, a Democratic state representative from Fargo who's also a captain with the Fargo Fire Department, as mediation chairman.

In coming up with its recommendations, the panel reviewed the history of contract offers and mediation sessions in the most recent contract talks.

FEA President David Marquardt said Friday, Nov. 8, that union negotiators were "very excited and happy" with the recommendations and hopeful they will spark a resumption in talks between the union and school board.

The school board is expected to discuss the recommendations during a closed-door executive session as part of its regular board meeting Tuesday night, Nov. 12. It is possible board members will have something to say about the recommendations when they come out of executive session, according to board President Robin Nelson.

The most recent contract expired July 31, though teachers have continued to work under the terms of that contract since then. Any pay increases that could come with a new contract would be retroactive to July 31, according to Nelson.

Both sides said they received the mediation committee's recommendations on Thursday, Nov. 7.

The school board declared an impasse in contract talks on Aug. 26, the last time the school district and teachers union representatives negotiated face to face.


The union then filed an action in Cass County District Court asserting the district was premature in calling an impasse. The suit asked the court to force the school district back to face-to-face talks.

At the time, an attorney for the school district said the two sides were more than $1 million apart on the issues of salary and benefits and that mediation and fact finding were the appropriate next steps for the stalled talks.

A judge ruled Oct. 4 that the board did not have to return to the bargaining table.

If an agreement cannot be reached based on the recommendations of the mediation committee, the matter would go to a state fact-finding committee, which would be tasked with coming up with its own list of recommendations. If such a step did not result in an agreement, the school board could unilaterally issue contracts.

"But that is certainly not the preference of the board," said Nelson, who added: "I do feel both the FEA and the school board are anxious to finalize a contract."

Under North Dakota law, public employees, including teachers, are not permitted to strike.

Marquardt said that throughout the negotiation process the focus of teachers has been on the students. And he said that will remain the case, adding that a strike has not been a major subject of discussion among teachers.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

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