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Grand Forks School Board, teachers to discuss mediation options

Grand Forks teachers and the School Board will soon determine whether local mediation is needed to help set the 2015-17 teachers contract.

Both negotiating teams agreed on Monday to add another meeting this month to "find out where we are, if we've got room to move," said Tom Young, chief negotiator for teachers.

The team must decide whether to pursue advisory arbitration by June 15. During this process, a representative from both sides tries to come up with a final recommendation for their team.

In the Grand Forks Education Association contract, the bargaining unit has a 45-day window from the start of negotiations to pursue this option. If both sides are still deadlocked after arbitration, the teams are considered to have reached a formal impasse. The state then assigns a fact-finding commission to create a recommendation.

Alternatively, if both teams ignore the 45-day window and find themselves deadlocked, they've also reached impasse.

"It hasn't been used very often, if ever" by the Grand Forks district, said Young.

Salary dispute

Since bargaining began in late April, teachers and School Board members have disagreed the most over salary increases.

Board members say the district can't afford the teachers' request to bump up base salaries $2,300 the first year and $1,800 the second year along with their other requests.

That would mean the base salary for a beginning teacher would start at $40,000 the first year and $41,800 the second year. Teachers currently start at $37,700.

Board members say the district needs to maintain a healthy reserve for future years, but teachers say the district is too conservative with their reserve and that money could go toward supporting and retaining quality teachers.

In North Dakota, there are no deadlines for teacher negotiations. During the last contract bargaining period in 2009, Grand Forks teachers didn't reach an agreement until October, said Young.

This year, he doesn't sense either side wanting to pursue a long negotiation process, he said.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit www.grandforksherald.com.