Grand Forks Teachers, Education Association Rejects District Salary Proposals During Negotiations – Grand Forks Herald

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Grand Forks — The Grand Forks Education Association, a union that represents district teachers in contract negotiations, rejected two salary proposals put forward by the school board during the third session of negotiations Monday.

In the board’s first proposal — scenario A — teachers would receive an annual salary increase over two school years ranging from 3-5% based on experience, with the lowest earning the most in an effort to attract more new hires to the district, according to the vice president. School Board Amber Flynn.

Scenario B would provide similar wage increases, with a gradual percentage increase in employer contribution to the North Dakota Teachers Retirement Fund (TFFR) over six years, participation in which is mandatory for all certified teachers in the state.

Scenario B is a nonstarter, as the GFEA is unable to negotiate after a two-year period, said Dawn Nord, head of negotiations for the GFEA. In addition, Nord said that scenario A does not adequately compensate experienced teachers.

“When it comes to scenario A, we’re not going to be able to validate that,” Nord said. “It’s not fair to our teachers. You take the most experienced teachers and give them a 3% raise, and you give someone who walks in the door a 6% raise. I think you’re going to have a lot of experienced teachers leaving the door.”

Nord also cited data from the state’s Department of Public Education, which says Grand Forks schools offer the lowest average compensation for teachers among North Dakota’s largest school districts — at $80,243. It’s a number that takes into account base salary, benefits, and employer contributions to the TFFR. Additionally, according to the same data, the average teacher wage for Grand Forks teachers increased by $186 between 2020 and 2022, compared to the state average of $3,027.

Nord asked the board why salary increases were out of proportion with the increase in budgeted revenue — $10,669,819 over the past three years, according to the General Fund — while budgeted salaries and benefits fell by $66,038 in the same time frame.

“If you look at those who get paid, we see that you bring in more money and spend more money on everything but salaries,” Nord said.

The parties also could not reach an agreement on the maximum number of cases a special education teacher can take on before he or she is eligible for a pay increase. Caseloads are determined by a number of factors, such as a student’s disability class and how much service they need, which means that one student may exceed one caseload.

Under the board’s proposal, special education teachers with 30 or more cases would be eligible for a 15% salary increase based on the teacher’s daily pay rate.

Amber Haskell, a special education teacher at Keele Primary School, told the Herald that the board’s recommendation for an optimal case load factor of 25 to 27 is unrealistic, and that the status quo has made her overworked.

“I have 10 kids in my class, which translates to 26.6 issues,” Haskell said. “We also have a staffing shortage of paraprofessionals because the district is not paying them enough.”

Negotiations will continue April 27 at the Mark Sanford Learning Center.

Joe Banish

Banish covers news related to K-12 and higher education, as well as coverage of the county commission.