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School board, teachers settle salary contracts

After a short caucus of the School Board, West Fargo school district teachers could release their collective breath.

"We will accept the settlement offer," said Thomas Gentzkow, School Board President.

More than six months of negotiations between the West Fargo School Board and the West Fargo Education Association culminated Monday, Oct. 26. In the end, the two sides agreed on the WFEA settlement offer of a 3.26 percent raise for the first year and a 5.35 percent raise for the second year.

"It feels good to reach a settlement," said Dan Wolf, teacher and lead negotiator for the teachers union.

In their last offer, teachers sought a 3.26 percent raise for the first year and a 5.81 percent increase for the second year. This was compared to the board's offer of 3.26 percent and 4.76 percent, respectively. In early September, the board declared impasse when it appeared both sides wouldn't come to an agreement.

Representatives then were gathered for a three-person mediation team, but the team was never fully formed when, earlier in October, both sides agreed to one "last-ditch" negotiation effort.

On Monday, that effort paid off.

With the pay increase, a starting teacher with a bachelor's degree will earn $30,469 this year. That is an increase of more than $1,200. For 2010-11, a starting teacher will earn $33,029, an increase of $1,765.

The raise also will be made retroactive for current teachers. According to Human Resources Director Robin Hill, a difference will be calculated from the first step and second step. From that, a lump sum retroactive to the beginning of the contract will be paid out "sometime in November."

NDDOT to pay for sign removal

A school district sign is in the way and the North Dakota Department of Transportation needs it moved.

As part of the Main Avenue road project in West Fargo, the NDDOT contacted administration concerning the location of the Leidal Education Center sign.

Pete Diemert, the school district's Director of Building and Grounds, said DOT originally notified administration that the school district was required to fund both the move and replacement of the concrete sign, as it apparently is partly on city property.

Diemert requested a survey of the area in question. It was discovered that the original deed for the property was not correctly updated many years ago before the sign was installed, meaning the city owns only 45 feet from the street in front of the Liedel Center, not the 50 as originally thought. Therefore, DOT will pick up the cost, which amounts to roughly $11,000.

The board unanimously approved the decision.

First reading of policies

The first readings of two school district policies were conducted Monday. Hill said both policies have taken significant time, but that work still could be done.

The first policy was the use of school buildings for other than school purposes. School Board Director Duane Hanson questioned if they would be listing all entities entitled to free use of school buildings, particularly why the West Fargo U.S.S. Club was named.

Gentzkow said he had been approached by the club asking to keep the wording in the policy. He said it dates back to the inception of sanctioned swimming in the West Fargo school district. At the time, the U.S.S. Club owned all the equipment and allowed the district to use it free of charge in exchange for use of the pool.

Gentzkow said it has never been in writing, referring to it as a "gentleman's agreement."

To this day, the club still owns the equipment, such as the timing devices and touch pads.

Another policy brought in for a first reading was that of corporal punishment. The West Fargo School District is changing its policy to follow state legislation. On Monday, the School Board members reviewed changes to the district's longstanding policy and expect to approve the revisions on Nov. 9.

In March, the Legislature approved changes requiring standardized disciplinary policies in schools and prohibiting corporal punishment policies that are stricter than state law.