Contract negotiations between the Grand Forks School Board and teachers are moving closer to resolution, but questions related to salary and a few other issues have yet to be settled.

After rejecting the salary proposal from the teachers’ team on Tuesday, the board team proposed three options from which teachers are being asked to choose.

In the first option, the school district pays 100% of the employee contributions to the Teachers Fund For Retirement and reduces employee salary by that amount. It also includes a 2% salary increase, added to the adjusted TFFR salary schedule in each of the next two school years. Under the current contract, employees pay 11.75% and the district pays 12.75% of the employee’s salary to TFFR.

In the second option, the employee will continue to pay the 11.75% of salary to TFFR and a 1.5 percent increase will be added to each cell of the salary schedule for each of the next two school years. This is the equivalent of a 3.2% salary increase each year, given the roughly 1.7% increase already built into the steps of the salary schedule, said Scott Berge, business manager for the school district.

In the third option, the employee will continue to pay the same percentage of salary to TFFR; a 1% increase will be added to each cell of the salary schedule for each of the next two school years; and the school board will contribute 80% and the employees 20% of the health insurance plan costs. Currently, the board pays 78% and employees 22% of the health insurance plan costs.

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This equates to a 2.7% pay increase each year, given the roughly 1.7% increase built into steps of the salary schedule, Berge said. Also, the offer to increase the district share of health insurance cost by 2% and reduce teacher health insurance premium costs, would cost the district about $320,000 over the two years of the contract.

In all three options, teachers are allowed to advance in the steps and lanes of the salary schedule. Steps reflect years of employment and lanes reflect additional formal education.

Negotiators are expected to continue Tuesday at the Mark Sanford Education Center.

Various issues

The two teams have exchanged offers back and forth in recent meetings, trying to find common ground on a variety of issues, among them, compensation, benefits, safety, maternity leave and “blackout dates,” which is time set aside for teachers to work on student progress reports and prepare for parent-teacher conferences.

Teachers say the number of blackout dates has steadily decreased in recent years and they are frustrated that some principals schedule individual or small-group meetings during those times.

“Principals say, ‘Well, it’s not in your contract, so technically I can call meetings,’ ” said Melissa Buchhop, member of the teachers’ team. “Things disappear when they are not in our contract.”

Teachers also pressed for representation on any committee that deals with safety, such as policies, procedures, training, reporting practices and collection and review of data.

The board and teachers’ teams agreed Tuesday to proposals regarding safety, with a minor change.

The teams also are close to agreement concerning the amount of credit for teaching experience given to non-teachers who join the district as teachers and have backgrounds in industry or commercial fields.

“Career and technical education positions provide a unique challenge for us, especially in high-demand fields,” said Amber Flynn, leader of the board team.

The board team has proposed that employees of that type receive one year of credit for every two years’ experience in their field, up to 11 years.

Teachers are asking for considerations regarding maternity leave, because teachers who’ve worked less than six years may not have accumulated enough sick leave to take six weeks of leave after giving birth, they say.

The committee assigned to study that issue “still has work to do,” which will be part of a larger benefits package, Flynn said. The committee will reconvene in August and the board is willing to reopen discussion on this topic next spring, she said.

Recent salary negotiations

In last week’s negotiating session, the board team offered a 1% salary raise in each of the next two school years. The teachers’ team rejected that offer Tuesday, but presented a counteroffer that altered an earlier, unconventional offer by the board team whereby the school district would pick up 100% of the teachers’ contribution to their retirement fund.

The teachers team then countered by asking for the district to pick up 2% of the teachers’ contribution to TFFR for the upcoming school year and 4% the following school year.

The approach creates tax savings for the district without changing the salary schedule and is an unconventional way to increase teacher’s take-home pay, said Dawn Mord, member of the team representing the Grand Forks Education Association.

The board team rejected that proposal and countered with the three-option proposal that is under consideration by the teachers’ team and GFEA members.