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Published August 19 2009

Forum editorial: WFEA’s proposal out of line

The West Fargo Education Association’s pitch for a 10.5 percent pay raise over two years is too high. It communicates the wrong message at a time when a soft economy is putting hundreds of people in the West Fargo School District out of work. Others have had hours – and thus pay – reduced. Still others wonder if their jobs are secure. Pay raises are not in their immediate future.

It’s standard procedure for teachers’ unions to shoot for the moon at contract negotiations time. The strategy comes right out of the North Dakota Education Association’s and the National Education Association’s playbooks. The idea is to aim unrealistically high and eventually settle for a pay and benefits bump that was really the goal in the first place.

WFEA’s timing could not be worse. In addition to the economic situation, the school district is struggling with internal issues that threaten to land a fat black eye on a school system that had been a model of management and education success.

Teachers are less than happy with school administrators. School Board members behave like rubber stamps for the administration, rather than represent the people who elected them. Teachers complain that mistrust and a lack of communication taint the atmosphere in the schools.

By their very nature, teacher contract negotiations are confrontational and fractious. But in the West Fargo case, the School Board might be trying to find a way to avoid yet another high-profile family fight. What better way to tamp down teacher complaints about administrators and board members than roll over for an inflated pay increase?

However, if the board agrees to the teacher union’s demands, the board risks being perceived as insensitive to the effects of the recession on private sector workers and businesses.

No one is suggesting teachers be denied a raise. No one should. By and large, West Fargo teachers are among the best. They should be appropriately compensated. The size of the raise proposed is the problem. WFEA seems clueless (arrogant?) with its apparent dismissal of the realities of the economy for many nonpublic employees.

No matter how much board members want to quiet teacher complaints about trust and communication, they should not sell out the district by acceding to an unreasonable wage demand.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.