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Grand Forks Schools makes final offer to teachers on pay increase

Grand Forks Public Schools has made its final offer to teachers on salary increases, setting the stage for another meeting next week and, possibly, an answer from the educators.

The School Board's Teacher Contract Bargaining Committee offered during a Wednesday meeting to increase pay by $2,000 for teachers who have four years or less experience with the district. Teachers that have five to 25 years experience with the district would see a $1,500 raise, and teachers with more than 25 years would see a jump of $2,000.

"We believe this is a very fair offer," School Board President Doug Carpenter said.

The Grand Forks Education Association countered twice during the meeting, asking as low as a 4 percent increase across the board. That's a drop from the teacher union's original pitch in May of a 5 percent increase, a proposal board members shot down. The board's committee initially wanted no increases to pay.

Aside from the pay, the GFEA has agreed to most of the committee's proposals, or the teachers at least want to see the proposals they tentatively plan to agree to in writing. That includes keeping the contract days to 188 and agreeing to the district's plan to hire an independent consultant to study maternity leave. Many proposals were unavailable at Wednesday's meeting since a power outage impeded access to electronic copies of the proposals.

Compared to last year, the committee's first proposal on Wednesday—increasing pay for teachers with less than five years by $2,000 and giving all other teachers a $1,500 raise—would increase the district's budget line to pay teachers by an average of 4.6 percent, Carpenter said.

GFEA President Tom Young was concerned teachers who have been with the district longer would see less of an increase than newer teachers. The committee's first Wednesday proposal would have increased pay for a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree by almost 7 percent, while the most experienced teachers with the highest level of education would see as little as a 2 percent increase.

Veteran teachers feel like they are being short-changed, GFEA negotiator Paul Strande said.

The two groups disputed which proposals would cost more. The district's first proposal on Wednesday would increase the salary budget by about $2.15 million, and the committee feels the teachers' pitch would be more expensive.

The teachers group argued that the district isn't taking into account replacing retiring teachers with younger ones, adding its 4.5 percent proposal would equal $40,000 less than the district's proposal.

The district doesn't know how much money it will save as it hires new teachers to replace retiring educators, Carpenter said. Numbers reflecting budget lines for the district's final offer and the teachers' 4 percent proposal were not available Wednesday.

The reason for offering more to younger teachers is to attract that group to the district, Carpenter said.

The district is expected to have a $1 million deficit for the 2018-19 budget if it doesn't increase pay for teachers.

"We are anticipating running on a substantial deficit," Carpenter said.

The conversation should also focus on retaining and taking care of current teachers, Young said.

Another meeting is scheduled for Monday, when the GFEA likely will make its decision on the final offer.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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