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Conflicts keeps negotiation team member from teacher contract meetings

As Grand Forks teacher contract talks continue to heat up, one member of the School Board negotiating team has been watching from the sidelines.

Eric Lunn, a negotiation team member, attended only "one or two" of the meetings that began in May, he said. Conflicts stemming from his new role this year as president of Altru Health System have prevented consistent attendance, and he warned board members beforehand this would likely occur, he said.

Teacher contract negotiation sessions have grown occasionally contentious this year. The Grand Forks Education Association and the School Board negotiation team will meet July 22 to discuss whether to pursue state intervention to help finalize the 2015-16 teachers contract.

Tom Young, chief negotiator for teachers, said GFEA was well aware of Lunn's potential absence, which has little effect on the outcome. Each side reaches a conclusion that doesn't rely on votes, he said.

For more coverage on teacher contract negotiations, click here.

After he missed three or four meetings, Lunn decided it wasn't fair to the negotiation process or the teachers to jump back in once or twice, he said.

"In these negotiation sessions, you develop a camaraderie with both sides," he said. "I just thought it was really unfair to interject every once in awhile."

No violation

North Dakota law allows school boards to decide whether to declare a vacancy if a member doesn't fulfill his or her duties for 60 consecutive days.

A committee member who doesn't attend meetings is not in violation of any statute, said Annette Bendish, legal counsel for the North Dakota School Board Association.

Lunn has been a negotiation team member since 2001, making this year's negotiation round his seventh, he said. In the past, the team consisted of three School Board members, but the last two negotiation rounds had four members, he said.

School board committees are not required to have a specific number of members by state law.

The Grand Forks negotiating team decided this year to continue meetings as long as there were at least three members present, Lunn said.

He's still informed of what happens at meetings, he said. Negotiation team members often discuss contract issues with the full board after regular meetings.

"I've been able to provide lots of input through my school board duties," he said. "If anybody questions my willingness to serve, all they have to do is look at my attendance at (school board and other related) meetings."

Superintendent Larry Nybladh could not be reached for comment.

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. 

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