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WFEA and school district reach tentative agreements on two items

The West Fargo Education Association and West Fargo School District's negotiation teams methodically whittled away on its agenda items on June 29, reaching tentative agreements on two items. With both teams exercising a great deal of caution to make sure wording and terminology is carefully chosen, progress has been slow, but the mood has been conducive to successful collaborative bargaining. Salary proposals have not been brought to the table at this point.

In its original list of issues, WFEA had requested an amendment be made to the School Calendar Advisory Committee makeup to allow more representation from WFEA members on the committee. Under the tentative agreement reached Monday night, the committee will increase from three people to nine. The committee will include the assistant superintendent, who will serve as the committee chair; one board member, appointed by the board; one building principal, appointed by the superintendent; three WFEA members, appointed by the WFEA president; and three parents. One parent would be chosen by the superintendent, one by the principal, and one by a teacher on the calendar committee.

The two groups also reached a tentative agreement on the wording for a Concert Honorarium, designating that $50 will be paid to each participating music instructor conducting a concert eligible under the plan. Robin Hill will be in charge of determining if concert events qualify, going by criteria discussed during last week's meeting..

Three items on the agenda were tabled until next week. Negotiators for the district requested that an emergency leave proposal clause to cover unforeseeable emergencies be tabled until the language could be explored by the board. Examples given by WFEA for possible situations fitting under the proposal included a request to protect an employee's home from flooding, or time off to spend time with a family member or spouse before military deployment to Iraq. Robin Hill cautioned that wording should be looked at carefully to avoid problems in interpretation and fairness in determining what constitutes an emergency.

  A proposal to change the fifth professional day on the calendar to a teacher work day was tabled by the WFEA after hearing the district's counter offer. WFEA members contend that the district's fifth professional day is in violation of the contract, which calls for four professional days. After seeking legal interpretation from Jon Arntson, the district's attorney, the district recommended one of three options. Student contact days could be reduced from 187 to 186 to compensate for the extra professional day; they could continue with the calendar for 2009-2010 as is, and make adjustments in 2010-2011; or convert one of the professional days into a student contact day.

"We recommend that since the calendar has already been established, we should go ahead with the 2009-10 calendar as is," Robin Hill said. She reminded the group that the district has already signed binding contracts for scheduled speakers for all five professional days.

Dan Wolf, head negotiator for the WFEA, voiced his disappointment that the district wasn't ready to sign an agreement. "We thought we'd discussed this and come to some kind of agreement," he said.   

Aaron Knodle reiterated to the board that WFEA members weren't making the request for less professional days because they want to get out of work. They simply prefer to use it as a staff work day instead of sitting in sessions.

"We thought the work day would be a great compromise. It's a matter of productivity and efficiency. I think my time could be better spent. Don't get me wrong, the speakers are great, but we're sitting there when we have so much work to do," Knodle said. "If we have speakers come in and talk about data, then give us time to use it," Knodle added.

A request from WFEA to have a say in the district's Reduction in Force (RIF) policy was also tabled until a later date. Although a reduction in staff seems unlikely in light of the district's continued growth, it has been seventeen years since any revisions have been made to the RIF policy. WFEA members would like the policy reviewed to make sure it is up to date to meet the district's growing needs. The current policy was adopted in 1985, with revisions made in 1989, 1991, and the latest changes made in 1992.

Establishing a starting point for creating a new communications panel was one of the most productive achievements of the evening. WFEA spokesperson Joan Connor handed out a detailed two-page outline of ground rules and expectations of the proposed committee that would meet approximately six to nine times a year to discuss any concerns staff or administration might have. Tom Gentzkow praised Connor's efficient efforts for an organized plan.

"I like this idea, personally. To get some perimeters set right from the start will be important," Gentzkow said.

Dardis agreed. "Whether this lands in the negotiations process or not, I think it's a great springboard. Very thorough," Dardis said.  

The next negotiations meeting will be held on Thursday, July 9, at 5:30 p.m. at the Leidal Education Center boardroom.