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West Fargo teachers to begin school year without contracts

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Hoping to settle on a contract before school begins on August 26, negotiations teams for the West Fargo teachers union and district representatives came away from the August 19 meeting disappointed. The two teams had left the bargaining table at the previous meeting with an offer from the district which included a 3.25 percent increase in total compensation for the 2009-2010 school year, and 4.75 percent for the following year. But when West Fargo Education Association members were contacted to find out how many members would be in favor of accepting the district's offer, WFEA leaders said they got a low response, with only seven teachers acknowledging that they would support a decision to accept the package.

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WFEA's original offer included a 5.10 percent salary increase for the first year, and a 4.98 percent increase the second year, equaling a 10 percent salary increase over two years, and a total compensation package of 10.5 percent. WFEA came back to the table with a revised proposal decreasing their salary increase to 8.5 percent over two years. Their new proposal did not include a breakdown of benefits or define how the 8.5 percent should be divided up over the two year contract. WFEA leader Dan Wolf explained that they felt that by leaving the offer open-ended, it would give both negotiating teams a bigger window of opportunity to explore available options to expedite a quicker settlement.

After caucusing, the district came back with figures tallied, estimating that WFEA's latest proposal would end up with about a 9 percent total compensation price tag, putting it beyond what the board would be willing to accept.

"That doesn't fit in our budget," board president Tom Gentzkow stated. The district stood behind their final offer of 3.25 and 4.75 percent, emphasizing that their offer had gone beyond the amount recommended by the school board during salary discussions when the budget was being finalized.

WFEA representatives felt their offers were fair and within the range of salary agreements reached by other schools in the area. As a point of comparison, they handed out a list of average salary increases negotiated by other schools for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years. The list indicated that Bismarck settled with a 10 percent total salary increase over the two years; Devils Lake at 9.47 percent; Fargo at 9.55 percent; Jamestown at 8.58 percent; Minot at 10.04 percent; Dickinson at 19.42 percent; and Williston at 3.67 percent with added lane changes. The document also listed that state employees settled with a 10 percent raise. With the anomalies of Williston and Dickinson taken out, the average salary increase among the group was 9.61 percent, compared to WFEA's proposal of 8.5 percent.

The next negotiations meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 9, at 6 p.m. at the Leidal Education Center boardroom.

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