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Kelly Smith, Published July 28 2009

West Fargo teachers, board disagree on forming communications committee

Teacher salaries aren’t holding up West Fargo contract negotiations yet.

Instead, it’s how to put together a group that would help sort out the district’s major issues such as reported low teacher morale.

Neither side will budge in how it wants the communications committee to look.

“When it comes to the communications panel, both sides feel very strongly,” lead negotiator and middle school teacher Dan Wolf said. “I don’t know if there is a halfway.”

About two dozen teachers showed up to support their union on Monday – a larger-than-normal showing for a negotiations meeting.

The union wants a panel with just teachers and board members; the board wants to include administrators, the superintendent and classified staff members.

“The WFEA (West Fargo Education Association) sees it as imperative we have the opportunity to deal directly with the board,” Wolf said. “The board prefers to use a chain of command.”

With district officials refusing to agree to the union’s plan, teachers asked the School Board to withdraw teachers’ proposal for a communications panel.

“It’s not in my interest right now to accept that,” board President Tom Gentzkow said, adding later: “I want to make sure our board is comfortable accepting that.”

The board plans to decide by the next negotiations meeting on Monday.

Both sides agree the panel could help pave the way for healing strained relations in the district between officials and teachers.

“We have issues that are simply not getting up to ... the School Board,” said high school teacher Aaron Knodel, who is a member of the negotiations committee. “This proposal allows for that communication.”

A previous panel organized by the School Board “fell by the wayside” in the past two years.

Board members have said they plan to reinstate their communications panel regardless of if the union withdraws its plan or not.

Whether the West Fargo Education Association agrees to be at that table, though, isn’t know, union President Joan Connor said.

While Wolf said this year’s teacher contract negotiations process is behind where it’s been in past years, he and Gentzkow agreed the process is going smoothly.

“I think this is a good proving ground for us,” Gentzkow said. “To see how we come out of this, the better off the entire team.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515