Grand Forks teachers will receive a 1.5% pay increase in each of the next two school years under a tentative contract agreement finalized Tuesday.

Agreement came after the team representing the Grand Forks School Board rejected the teachers’ request for a 1.5% salary increase in the first year and 2% increase in the second year.

The agreement still must be ratified by members of the Grand Forks Education Association then approved by the Grand Forks School Board at its next meeting on July 15 before it becomes official.

The new contract will affect about 760 full- and part-time teachers, said Scott Berge, the district’s business manager.

The salary increase -- including benefits such as health insurance and the district’s contribution to the teachers’ retirement fund and payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare -- will cost the school district $3.8 million over the next two years, Berge said.

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“The 1.5% for each of two years, combined with the increases that are built into the salary schedule, equates to a 3.2% increase in year one and a 3.1% increase in year two,” Berge said.

Step increases in the salary schedule reflect years of employment and lane increases reflect additional college degrees teachers may earn.

“Any increase in salary, by default, increases the district’s contribution to the Teachers Fund For Retirement and payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare,” Berge said.

Over the next two years, the school district is expecting to pay an additional $480,000 for health insurance premiums on behalf of teachers and about $3.4 million in payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare for teachers, he said.

The district pays 78% and teachers pay the remainder of their health insurance premiums, which will increase by a “relatively low” rate of 3% in year one and is expected to increase by 5% in year two, Berge said.

By the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the district will have paid about $5.9 million in health insurance premiums on behalf of teachers, he said.

New teachers

After much discussion, the two sides also agreed on contract language regarding recognition of teaching experience for new teachers who do not hold education degrees.

The school board team pressed for more flexibility in the hiring process, especially as it relates to career and technical fields in which candidates have work experience but not necessarily teaching experience. These employees can teach under an alternative licensing program.

“We’re always struggling on how to bring new teachers into the district,” said Amber Flynn, who led the board’s negotiation team.

Superintendent Terry Brenner said the district has had difficulty filling positions in commercial and industry-related fields.

Experienced teachers say that, while they welcome the new teachers, they object to a policy that allows those with little or no teaching experience to be placed at a higher position on the salary schedule, than those who have earned education degrees and have years of classroom teaching experience.

“It’s not just the knowledge to teach, but the competency to teach,” said Dawn Mord, a member of the GFEA team, which rejected the board’s proposal to offer in-coming, nontraditional teachers credit for experience on a 2:1 basis, or for every two years of experience, the candidate would receive one year of credit on the salary schedule.

The two bargaining teams also considered, but did not reach agreement on, forming a committee to study a plan for transitioning to a model that calls for the district to pick up more of the teachers’ contributions to their retirement funds. The committee’s recommendation would be presented to both bargaining units before the start of contract negotiations in spring 2021.

The GFEA team wanted to disallow reduction of the salary schedule as part of the transition plan, while the board team wanted to allow it, “because we don’t know what will be the best plan,” said Flynn.

The teams also did not reach agreement on the teachers’ request to change the district’s sick leave policy to accommodate teachers who go on maternity leave.

‘Strenuous’ at times

Over the past six weeks, tension mounted in bargaining sessions that were “strenuous” at times, said Tom Young, lead negotiator for the GFEA team, at the close of Tuesday’s meeting.

“This issue of trust came up a lot. You have an awful lot of work to do to regain the trust of teachers,” he told the board team. “I don’t know that this agreement does a whole lot to achieve that.

“You need to prove the words you said, ‘We value you,’ and that action is going to have to come pretty soon,” Young said. “Action is the only thing that engenders trust.”

Shannon Mikula, who is concluding her first year on the school board, said: “The board put reality on the table from the beginning. That was as big as we could go. If earning trust is all about dollars, I think we’ve done that.

“We want to earn your trust,” she said. “We want to hear your voices, too, preferably before we get to the bargaining table. We’d like to be proactive, not reactive. It’s going to take some dialogue, and I haven’t experienced that.”