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Helmut Schmidt, Published October 17 2012

Fargo, St. Paul hosting teacher conventions

FARGO – Today and Friday aren’t paid days off for teachers in Minnesota and North Dakota, but if the time is used right, teachers’ union leaders say the investments can pay off for their peers.

Between 400 and 500 of North Dakota’s 11,600 educators are expected at Fargo’s Davies High School and the Ramada Inn for the annual North Dakota Education Association Instructional Conference.

Meanwhile, a much bigger bunch – perhaps 8,000 of Minnesota’s roughly 53,000 teachers – is expected at St. Paul’s River Centre for the Education Minnesota Professional Conference.

“We have a very exciting conference planned,” said Kim Belgarde, president of the Fargo Education Association. Fellow teachers will be “missing some great professional development and some great time for networking” if they don’t show up, she said.

Minnesota’s event is a bigger draw because many of the conference’s workshops and breakout sessions qualify as required training for teachers, who must renew licenses every five years, Education Minnesota’s conference coordinator Linda Owen said.

“A lot of the sessions are set up so they can count as continuing credit,” she said, and some workshops have been moved to large ballrooms.

“It does bring a lot of teachers together. It’s a big idea sharing and a big inspiration, even,” Owen said. “The idea is that they can go home and try these ideas in the classroom. In that way, it’s kind of a public service for the entire state.”

There are no taxpayer dollars used for the Education Minnesota conference, spokesman Chris Williams said. The conference is paid by the union and by fees for booth space at its trade show.

In North Dakota, the NDEA convention days are a required part of the school calendars of each district by state law, but they aren’t paid time off.

“People have to decide if they want to be vacation days or at the conference,” said Dakota Draper, president of the NDEA.

In Minnesota, the days have been set aside in nearly every school district’s by long custom, union officials say. But districts don’t have to make that allowance by law.

“It’s a tradition. It goes back a long, long time,” Owen said.

The NDEA convention days used to be paid by the state of North Dakota as part of professional development, and attendance at the conferences was much higher.

But some time ago, the state’s lawmakers decided they wanted that training time to be 100 percent verifiable, said Senate Education Committee member Tim Flakoll.

“The bottom line is they have some great days there, but we wanted to be sure we are impacting as many people as possible,” the Fargo Republican said.

Lawmakers agreed to pay for some professional development days but not for NDEA convention time. As a compromise, they required those days be blocked off, Flakoll said.

Teachers in both states can use the conferences as vacation days, but education officials say that often isn’t the case.

Nancy Jordheim, a Fargo assistant superintendent for human resources, said she sees many of the district’s teachers spending the time in their classrooms, catching up on work or planning projects.

Lauren Rood, president of Moorhead’s teachers union, Education Moorhead, said his district’s teachers also have plenty to do.

“This weekend is a really big weekend for us,” he said, with end-of-term grades and other paperwork due.

“A great number of teachers use this (break) to catch up,” Rood said.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583