Additions keep coming as West Fargo Public Schools tacks on 32 new staff for next year
President of the West Fargo Educators Association spoke Monday not to oppose or support the hiring requests, but to ask to give consideration to raising existing teacher and staff pay as well.
WEST FARGO — In another round of large staffing additions, the West Fargo School Board approved the hiring of 32 new teachers, staff and administrators totaling roughly $2.4 million in salary and benefit amounts for the 2023-24 school year.
The approval on Monday, March 27, comes just days before the West Fargo School District will meet with teacher representatives to begin the biennual process of contract negotiations. A total of 31 full-time staff would be added to the district and paid for by the general fund. An additional position will be paid for by Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds that were allocated during the pandemic.
Monday's request also reclassifies some existing positions so that they will earn more next year.
Jordan Willgohs, president of the West Fargo Educators Association, spoke to the board Monday not to oppose or support the hiring requests, but instead to ask the board to give deep consideration to raising existing teacher and staff pay as well.
"Especially in the past few years, education has become a great deal more work, there is a great deal more pressure, more stress," Willgohs said. "We've seen our workloads increase as well, as well as inflation which everyone is feeling. We ask that you continue to give the consideration you've given us in the past, and position as aggressively as possible to accommodate all of our established staff."
Monday night's request was the fourth round of large number staff additions in recent months as the district prepares for Horace High School to host its first senior class in the building as well as for an estimated 279 new students as the district retains its rapid growth pace.
Superintendent Beth Slette said the roughly $2.4 million the district will spend in salary and benefits has been brought down from the $5.5 million initially requested by district staff.
Additions include adding one health science teacher at Horace High School, a science teacher at West Fargo High School, a half-time physical education teacher and one half-time English Learner teacher at Heritage Middle School. All positions would be paid for by the general fund.
At Liberty Middle School, 2.5 teachers will be added using next year's expected federal grant money, or ESSER funds. Two additional counselors for Heritage High School and an addition of a dean of students for Horace Elementary was also requested to deal with more rapid growth.
Positions that the district previously hired using ESSER funds would be kept on staff and paid for by the district's general fund as part of the request, such as two CORE teachers at Liberty Middle School.
Part of the request also reclassifies some existing staff, meaning they will see a bump in pay and benefits. Two former full-time dean positions were reclassified to be assistant principals starting next year.
"Assistant principals can provide feedback and complete evaluations as well as bring a higher level of education and credentials to the work," Human Resources Director Brittnee Nikle said.
"We said we needed to go back and look at our positions, so I'm glad that this is being recognized," Board President Patti Stedman said.
Health, Safety and Public Relations Director Heather Leas, who has worked for the district for more than a decade as its spokesperson, now also oversees health and safety including the police SRO program. Her position was reclassified to include her additional duties.
"This is one that really needed to be looked at due to the overall responsibilities of that position," Nikle said.
Business Manager Levi Bachmeier said the district will dedicate 50% of general fund spending on classroom teachers, more than 20% on special education and about 5% on certified staff such as part-time reading teachers.
In hopes of offering existing staff acceptable salaries and potential raises, Bachmeier said the district will "continue to optimize across federal funds, state funds and the school district's general fund."
The district has used ESSER Funds to fund many positions including the five therapists the board approved hiring at its last meeting. The district hopes to maintain those positions with its general fund in the future, but it won't hold all of the positions.
"We won't be able to sustain all of the positions that are currently being paid for by ESSER Funds, but we hope to return many," Bachmeier said.
West Fargo schools will receive one more year of ESSER Funding in the 2023-24 school year.
Readers can reach reporter Wendy Reuer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-241-5530 . Follow her on Twitter @ForumWendy .