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Teachers want to be appreciated, feel they deserve a raise from Grand Forks Schools

Grand Forks teachers and school leaders were back at the table Thursday less than a year after an impasse led to a one-year teacher contract agreement.

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Grand Forks teachers and school leaders were back at the table Thursday less than a year after an impasse led to a one-year teacher contract agreement.

The School Board's Teacher Contract Bargaining Committee and Grand Forks Education Association spent most of the meeting talking about values instead of numbers. Teachers want to know that they matter to the district, to take care of family financially and be able to advance their careers, said Tom Young, president of the teacher association.

Aside from several organizational meetings, it was the first time the two entities sat down this year to discuss teacher contracts. The district and association typically negotiates two-year contracts, but last year's impasse resulted in a one-year agreement, meaning the groups must come to another consensus on teacher pay and benefits.

The School Board in July approved to pay roughly $782,000, or 1.86 percent, more for teacher salaries compared with the 2016-2017. The agreement called for salary increases on the basis of years of teaching, according to the 2016-17 teacher salary schedule, but no additional increases. It also allowed for an additional $500 salary increase for teachers at the top of the salary schedule.

Teachers initially wanted a 5 percent salary hike in the 2017-18 school year and a 3 percent hike in the 2018-2019 year, while the School Board asked for a salary freeze after citing budget constraints and an unexpected spike in the cost of health insurance premiums for employees. That ultimately led to the impasse in May that ended with the one-year agreement in July.

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The district is projected to have a $1 million deficit if it does not change anything compared to the 2017-18, which had a $2 million deficit, District Business Manager Ed Gerhardt told the School Board's Finance Committee Wednesday. Additional revenue from state and federal funding, as well as added tax valuation from new construction in the city, is expected to add almost $1 million in revenue to the district's 2018-19 budget.

Teachers said they felt underappreciated by the community, students, parents and the district. Other teachers at the board were concern they were falling behind other districts in salaries, suggesting they are losing teachers to higher-paying schools.

Middle School teacher Penny Tandeski said she and her husband struggle to save money for family functions, needs and events, such as paying for health care and senior photos. She also said a raise is the only way a district can show it appreciates a teacher other than to be promoted to an administrative position.

"Getting a raise is not a want; it's a need," she said, adding she works a second job and she believes she deserves a raise after working for the district for 28 years.

Setting teacher pay is a balancing act between properly funding educators to make sure children are getting a proper education and being responsible to the taxpayers, School Board member Meggen Sande said.

School Board member Matt Spivey said the board is coming from a good place, and board members understand the importance of teachers.

"I want teachers to know that we do value teachers," Spivey said, adding that sentiment can get lost during the negotiation process.

Board members and teachers proposed looking at information on the district's budget and numbers comparing salaries and benefits to other schools in the area and state.

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