The Grand Forks teachers’ negotiation team received an offer of a 1 percent salary increase in each of the next two school years at a contract negotiation session.
The board team made the offer Monday evening after the teachers’ team rejected what was called an “unconventional” offer, presented at a May 14 meeting, which called for the school district to pick up 100 percent of the amount teachers pay from their salary into a retirement fund.
The teachers’ bargaining team is expected to respond to the latest offer at the next contract negotiation session Tuesday.
Teachers pay 11.25 percent of their salary and the district pays 12.75 percent to the Teachers Fund for Retirement, or TFFR. The May 14 proposal also included a 2 percent hike in each of the next two years and a 1.9 percent increase in salary in each step in the district’s salary schedule.
The team representing the Grand Forks Education Association rejected the novel offer, based on concerns over how it would affect teachers, especially those in the later stages of their career, said Tom Young, lead negotiator for the GFEA.
The time frame for gaining the required approval by other district employee groups, such as principals, directors and classified staff members, was a stumbling block, said Dawn Mord, a member of the teachers’ team.
Young said his group rejected the proposal because it asked teachers to “take a pay cut. It is not ratifiable by the membership.”
“I only see money being lost for teachers here,” Young said. “It’s too much to ask teachers to pick this up.”
Mord said the proposal called for "almost a 10 percent reduction to the salary schedule, (which) means that our reported salary to IRS will decrease by almost 10 percent. It will effect everything through IRS -- our Social Security, taxable income, all of those kinds of things -- and we have absolutely no idea the effect that will have in taking what looks like a salary reduction."
"There are so many unpredictable and unknown consequences to having a lesser-reported salary to the IRS," Mord said.
Young said, "No other district in the state has moved (to this model) by reducing the salary schedule in order to cover that cost."
Board team members disputed the term “pay cut.”
“This is not a pay cut,” said Shannon Mikula, board team member. “The numbers don’t add up to being a pay cut. It is a sincere effort to get more money into the hands of teachers as soon as possible.”
Mikula said she understood teachers’ concerns about how the proposal may affect Social Security benefit payments in the future.
“Social Security is an uncertainty,” she said. “But Social Security is already an unknown.”
She and other young workers question the viability of Social Security in the future, Mikula said.
Scott Berge, business manager for Grand Forks Public Schools, said the board team was looking for a plan that would address “recruitment, retention and longevity (of teachers) without affecting retirement pay.” The school district is facing “limited growth in revenue, particularly in year one,” Berge said.
More than 30 percent of North Dakota school districts have adopted the model whereby they assume the full contribution that teachers were making to their retirement fund, Berge said.
The teams also discussed insurance coverage for teachers.
“Our district is one of the few districts that doesn’t pay at least a portion of dental and vision insurance,” said Mord.
“You want us to provide dental, vision and health insurance, and I want to provide that too, but at the cost of what?” said Amber Flynn, lead negotiators for the board team. “We can’t do everything this year.”
“We have a balloon that’s been stretched too thin, and we can’t stretch it any more,” Flynn said.
She bristled at a statement by Mord that the board is prioritizing buildings over teachers.
Flynn and other board team members cited the need to keep facilities compliant with ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, requirements and to make sure buildings are safe.
“We want to provide schools that you can and want to come to every day,” Flynn said. “Unless we move forward with a referendum that passes next year, this is what we have to work with.
“We are trying everything we can to move forward in a positive direction.”
Early in negotiations, the teachers’ team asked for a 3 percent wage hike in the first year and five percent in the second year of their contract. That proposal was rejected by the School Board team.