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Grand Forks teachers: School could pay us $1.5 million more

Grand Forks Public Schools teachers could have received a total of $1.5 million bump in their salaries over the past four years, teachers said on Tuesday.


Grand Forks Public Schools teachers could have received a total of $1.5 million bump in their salaries over the past four years, teachers said on Tuesday.

Members of the Grand Forks Education Association say their calculation shows better salaries and benefits in the 2015-17 contract should be possible as they negotiated with School Board members. Teachers could have received more in recent years, too, they said.

"If we take that $1.5 million that didn't get spent on salaries, and we take this $430,000 this year that looks like it won't be spent on salaries, that's $2 million," said teacher negotiation member Dawn Mord said. "That's a lot per teacher. That's over $2,000 per teacher."

Teachers requested increases in extracurricular pay, a 2 percent higher contribution to health insurance and other changes, mostly lower than previous proposals. They also stood by their initial request to have a beginning teacher start at $40,000 the first year and increase to $42,000 the second year. A beginning teacher currently makes $37,700.

Board members rejected the offer, proposing instead to increase base salaries by $1,200 the first year - compared to $400 in their last offer - and $600 for the second year, which remained unchanged from before. They also offered $2 per hour for summer school and curriculum writing teachers, $1 higher than their previous offer.


At past meetings, board members said the district's projected budget can't handle their requests and it needs a healthy reserve to protect against future losses. Teachers have said the district keeps too much in reserve that could be used for salaries.

Board member Vicki Ericson said they want to care for teachers. But teachers must also consider the needs of other employees who haven't negotiated contracts yet, she said.

"You're teachers for nine months," she said, drawing loud boos from the audience. "My daughter is making $32,000 in a different state. I understand what you face. We understand your needs, but we have to look at the overall picture."

Disagreement over data

Central to Tuesday's discussion was a disagreement over interpreting data.

Negotiating teachers said district salaries have been projected to be much higher than necessary, based on information from the district and the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

For instance, when Grand Forks teachers negotiated for the 2009-11 contract, the total package for full-time teachers was estimated to be "about three quarters of a million dollars" higher than the actual cost, or "about a 20 percent error in calculation," said Mord.

"If you look at the next year, it was about $700,000 again," she said. "And if you look at 2013-15, based on full-time employees, it's a $1.3 million difference."


Teachers also considered how Grand Forks ranks compared to other districts in career earnings-No. 10 of the 10 largest districts for teachers who retire after 25 years-and other budget projections.

Ward Johnson, chief negotiator for the School Board, said he disputes their interpretation because he's been told the state Department of Public Instruction's numbers "aren't good."

Board member Doug Carpenter said the teachers' calculations may be accurate, but there are "other things" that factor into why the results didn't turn out as projected.

In their counteroffer, teachers also amended requested pay for extracurricular, summer school and curriculum writing teachers to lower amounts. They also requested more prep time for elementary teachers, which the board had no counteroffer for.

In the final offer of the night by teachers, they asked for a $4 instead of $5 increase per hour for summer and curriculum writing teachers. But they stood by their requests for extracurricular pay and health insurance.

"These are issues are still critical to our membership that affects their workday and their ability to do their work effectively," said Tom Young, chief negotiator for teachers. "We need to see those back into the package."

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