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Negotiations back in teachers' court

In 2009, the last time West Fargo Public Schools was faced with teacher contract negotiations, both sides reached impasse. Two months later, problems were resolved and contracts finally were agreed upon.

If Monday's school board meeting was any indicator, this go-around of negotiations has gone much more smoothly.

The board unanimously approved teacher salary proposals for the next two years Monday at South Elementary School. The West Fargo Education Association is planning to hold informational meetings and make a ratification vote sometime this week.

Why this negotiation process seemed to go better than the last time may be because of how the board and West Fargo Education Association hammered out the details. A Collaborative Bargaining Team was created that contained board members, WFEA members and staff officials. It was an effort that paid dividends, according to WFEA lead negotiator Aaron Knodel.

The process worked, although "it was probably a longer process than we would have liked in a perfect world," board president Ben Koppelman said.

A dozen specific points were agreed upon, the most impactful of which came from salaries.

Negotiations team members created a step salary schedule that blended the existing salary schedule with a schedule that guarantees a minimum raise equal to the average "step" increase for experience.

The blended schedules for the first year will address WFEA's concern that individual teachers should receive the salary that benefits them the most. By Year 2 of the contract, all teachers will be under the same step schedule and percentage rate increase.

A summary of the agreed salary proposal is as follows:

• 2.36 percent total compensation increase for 2011-12.

• 5.48 percent total compensation increase for 2012-13.

• Schedule II Activity pay is step only, while base salaries remain at $31,421 for both years.

• Schedule III and IV base pay remains at $31, 421 for both years.

• Payment of teacher's contribution to the Teachers Fund For Retirement of 9.75 percent in 2012-13.

The school board also agreed to language changes in association leave (an increase from four days to five) and lane changes, and agreed to takes steps in the formation of an Advisory Communications Committee.

One particular aspect that still needs work is adoption of alternative compensation methods.

"There were a lot of ideas ... maybe too many to address even in this decade," Human Resources Director Robin Hill said.

A committee with be established to focus on alternative compensation. It will be "comprised of a variety of stakeholders, and will be assigned with determining ways to reward teacher for excellence and effort," a report released by the district said.