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Negotiations teams agree to consider salary compromise

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The negotiations teams for the West Fargo School District and the West Fargo Education Association went away from the bargaining table on Tuesday night (August 11) with a challenging homework assignment. With this year's budget already locked in place, Tom Gentzkow, head negotiator for the district, urged WFEA to consider the district's offer of an 8 percent total compensation increase over the negotiated two-year period. However, he asked both teams to discuss the district's current proposal with the rest of their members and come back to the table on August 19, with ideas of ways to shift more of the salary increase costs to the second year, when a new budget could reflect the adjusted salaries.

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On August 3, the district had made an initial offer of a 2.5 percent increase in total compensation for the 2009-2010 school year, and a 3.01 percent increase for 2010-2011, for a total increase of 5.5 percent over the two years. WFEA came to Tuesday's meeting with a proposal of a 4.83 percent total compensation increase for the first year, and 5.69 percent for the second year, equaling a 10.5 percent increase over the two years.

Traditionally, WFEA has followed a strategy of starting with higher salary increases in their initial proposals to allow for a bigger margin of bargaining power. This year, WFEA opted for a more straightforward approach, hoping to reach settlement more quickly.

"Instead of trying to play some kind of game, we've come out with what we think is a fair number for consideration," Dan Wolf, head negotiator for WFEA said, asking the district to keep in mind that by using this strategy, this year's proposal has less "wiggle room" than usual.

Gentzkow thanked WFEA for their proposal and for the group's willingness to put so much effort into coming up with what he called a "great proposal." However, he told the group that he knew the district's tight budget couldn't support WFEA's first year proposal of 4.83 percent. Instead, he suggested that they compromise and split the difference between the two proposals, with the district offering 3.25 percent total compensation for the first year, and 4.75 percent the second year, totaling an 8 percent raise over two years. He later asked the group to study the proposals to see if there was any way that something could be taken out of the first year, and moved to the second year to allow more of the 3.25 percent to be used toward teacher salaries. It was suggested that it might help to hold off on making the proposed changes to activities and co-curricular fees on Schedules 3 and 4 until the second year.

Looking at the salary index, Wolf pointed out that if WFEA settled for raises lower than 3.8 percent for this year, 33 teachers in the district who have reached the maximum level on the current salary schedule could actually go backwards if increases to the district's health insurance costs were factored in.

"At this snapshot in time, there are a lot of people at the bottom of the steps," Wolf emphasized.

"We're not going to ratify a contract that just satisfies the middle group," Aaron Knodel said.

"We have to make it agreeable to as many people as possible," added Wolf.

Gentzkow remained firm on the district's offer.

"I think we put out the best proposal we can for the first year," Gentzkow said.

Earlier in the meeting, the teams reached tentative agreements on a catastrophic sick leave policy including a district sick bank; personal leave language allowing teachers to accumulate an additional personal day; and a national certification stipend.

The next negotiations meeting is scheduled to be held on Wednesday, August 19, at 6 p.m. at the Leidal Education Center boardroom.

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