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Report recommends limited raises, other solutions to teacher contract impasse

Grand Forks School Board President Doug Carpenter explains parts of the proposed district budget while defending why there should be a freeze in pay during a June 15 public hearing. An impasse hearing was called after the School Board and the teachers couldn't agree on raises for teachers for the next two years. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)

The commission charged with reviewing the impasse in Grand Forks teacher contract negotiations has recommended that the Grand Forks School Board give a $1,000 raise to returning full-time teachers and issue one-year, rather than the usual two-year, contracts to teachers for the 2017-18 school year.

In its report, released Friday, the North Dakota Education Fact Finding Commission recommended that lane changes will be allowed but there will be no advancement on the yearly step and salary.

A lane change occurs when a teacher earns additional approved credits, so a salary increase associated with that change would be allowed in the 2017-18 school year, said Dean Rummel, chairman for the commission.

A "step" refers to tenure, or the number of years a teacher has been teaching.

"The 2016-17 salary schedule in the current contract will be the same for 2017-18," the report stated.

The document suggested that "an improving North Dakota economy could be helpful if the Board and the Education Association have an opportunity to negotiate in 12 months."

The commission estimated that the cost of the recommended $1,000 per-teacher salary increase for 732 teachers at $881,000, including contributions to Social Security and the teachers' retirement fund.

In negotiations this spring, the School Board proposed no increases in teacher salary, citing rising expenses and the 2017 Legislature's freeze on per-pupil funding formula at the 2016-17 level.

The GFEA proposed a 5 percent salary increase in 2017-18 and a 3 percent increase in 2018-19.

In its report, the fact-finding commission also recommended that committees be formed to study two other sticking points concerning maternity leave and elementary teachers' preparation time.

The Grand Forks School Board and the Grand Forks Teachers Association have until July 27 to reach agreement. The two groups can either accept the commission's recommendations or make minor changes to those recommendations.

The fact-finding commission recommended that School Board and teachers' negotiators meet separately to read and discuss its report. After that, both groups must meet together at least once, or more often if necessary, to try to reach a final resolution of the impasse.

If, after July 27, they are still at impasse, the commission's report would be published in the Herald. And, in the published material, the commission's chairman will explain why the negotiations failed, and who, in his opinion, compromised the possibility for agreement.

On Friday, Doug Carpenter, School Board president, said he had not scrutinized the report closely, but "it appears, at least from my perspective, that it might be something we could work with."

He said the board will meet Monday and, in a closed session, "will give it serious consideration. They will give instructions to the board negotiation team about what direction to take."

Tom Young, president and chief negotiator for the GFEA, declined to comment on the recommendations Friday, saying it would be "premature" to do so before discussing them with members of the association's negotiating team.

The Grand Forks School Board meets at 6 p.m. Monday at the Mark Sanford Education Center. After the regular meeting, members will hold an executive session, which is closed to the public.

The School Board and the GFEA bargaining teams have arrived at the impasse after holding six negotiating sessions between March 30 and May 17. In late May, they declared an impasse had been reached, which triggered a request for assistance from the North Dakota Education Fact Finding Commission.

The commission reviewed position documents, submitted by each side, and held a public hearing June 15 in Grand Forks to hear each side's statement and receive testimony from interested parties.

Members of the fact-finding commission are Rummel of Dickinson, Jerry Hieb of Valley City and Barb Evanson of Bismarck.