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Negotiating teams make progress

At the culmination of a two-and-a-half hour negotiations meeting held on Wednesday, June 10, Dan Wolf, head negotiator for the West Fargo Education Association, and Board President Tom Gentzkow, both expressed that they were pleased with the amount of progress made by the two teams. A major portion of the meeting was spent fine-tuning and adjusting proposals for salaries and compensation of extra-curricular positions covered under Salary Schedules II, III and IV. The group also reached a tentative agreement on language changes being proposed to clarify terminology in the district's sick leave policy.

Music instructors Karen Morrison and Heather Klundt were present at the meeting to be available to answer questions pertaining to additions and changes being proposed for district music director positions. In the past, funding for some of the music director positions for the winter musical has been paid through co-curricular drama funds. WFEA has requested that the musical vocal director and pit orchestra director positions be added to Schedule 2 to be more comparable to the other music director positions. A request to add high school chamber orchestra to Schedule II was also reviewed.

"One of the differences in moving these positions on to Schedule 2 is that they will be able to receive experience pay, which hasn't been the case in the past," WFEA negotiator Aaron Knodle said.

WFEA representatives also asked for compensation to music performances outside of contract hours. A directive for $50 per performance with a cap not to exceed $4,000 in any given year was tentatively agreed upon.

It was suggested by WFEA that Data Team members should be moved to Salary Schedule 3 to be categorized with the other leadership rolls. However, Robin Hill, the district's human resources manager, said the district is hesitant to add data team positions as line items on the salary schedule at this point because the positions are still evolving and haven't been clearly defined yet.

On Monday, June 15, negotiators met again, with calendar issues as the main agenda item.

Among WFEA's 2009 list of negotiation issues, WFEA requested that the number of district staff development days be reduced from the four days currently specified by the negotiations agreement, to two days, asking that development days be replaced with teacher work days to give teachers adequate time to prepare for new classes. WFEA also members brought it to the group's attention that there is one more professional development day on the calendar than the contract calls for.

"The negotiations agreement specifically says there shall befour professional days. Just as we [WFEA] don't have the right to change the number of sick days or personal days, the board doesn't have the right to alter the number of professional days," stated Dan Wolf.

According to Louise Dardis, assistant superintendent for the district, the fifth professional day was added during the 2006-07 year when the state mandated that early dismissal for staff development be discontinued. The early dismissal times throughout the year were replaced with the equivalent of one professional day.

"From the board's perspective, we would hesitate to change professional days to two days. We feel they are very valuable," Gentzkow said. Schools in North Dakota are currently required to schedule at least two professional development days each year.

After discussion, and a brief caucus, Gentzkow indicated that the board would be willing to study other options for the extra professional day.

"We're willing to see whatever fifth day solutions you might have. We'll look at it and see what we can do," Gentzkow said. However, he stood firm on retaining the other four days.

"We have no interest in cutting back to two required days," Gentzkow said.

The group also discussed changing the composition of the School Calender Advisory Committee from a three-person committee to nine people. Under the plan, the committee would include three WFEA members and three parents, with one representative from elementary, middle school, and high school levels; one board member; one building principal; and the assistant superintendent. The teachers and principal would be responsible for generating a list of prospective parents to serve on the committee.

"I truly appreciate having representation from each building," WFEA negotiator Joan Connor said.