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Helmut Schmidt, Published December 10 2012

Fargo teacher pay policy change could draw crowd tonight

FARGO – The head of the Fargo Education Association said Monday she expects “quite a few” teachers to show up at tonight’s school board meeting as a new policy to pay longtime employees for their service is considered.

Those retiring at the end of this school year won’t be affected by the new plan, but payments per day for cashed-in sick leave would be cut to $200 for the next year.

By the 2016-17 school year, payments would drop to $50 per day, district documents show.

There is a grandfather clause for those who could retire with full benefits as of July 1, 2013, which keeps payments for them at $200 per day of cashed-in sick leave.

FEA President Kim Belgarde said the changes are a major break from promises made to teachers.

“Our members feel upset. I do expect quite a few to be at the meeting tomorrow,” Belgarde said. “They’d like the school board to keep their promise and be valued.”

She said the FEA was not invited to take part in discussions over the new longevity policy.

“If they would not reinstate (the old policy), we would really like to see it phased out over a longer stretch,” and that the floor for payments per day be set at $100, Belgarde said.

A substitute teacher gets paid $90 per day, and longtime teachers would like to be paid more than a substitute for the sick days cashed in, she said.

School Board President Jim Johnson said he can’t predict what the board will decide for the new longevity policy, which was hammered out by a planning committee and administrators.

“Any and all things are possible,” he said.

Johnson wants the board to decide on a new policy tonight. If it can’t, he said he might call another meeting in December so the issue can be decided and district employees can have that information for their retirement decisions.

Under the policy still in effect for this school year, teachers and other employees who are not administrators can cash in up to 180 days of unused sick days at $211.43 per day. Administrators can cash in their sick leave at $247.34 per day.

The idea is that the money can be used to help pay for health insurance premiums until Medicare kicks in for the retirees.

The school board voted two weeks ago to end its former longevity policy with an eye on shrinking a potential $7.4 million in costs tied to the program.

In all, 240 of the district’s 1,427 employees are eligible to use the longevity plan to cash in sick leave.

Under the proposed plan, the district would eliminate a separate pay rate for administrators.

For the 2013-14 school year, the plan proposes the district pay $200 a day for each sick day cashed in.

By the 2014-15 school year – for employees not covered by the grandfather clause – reimbursement would drop to $150 per day. By 2015-16, it would drop to $100 per day. And for 2016-17 and beyond, the payment would be $50 per day.

Younger employees are part of a Paid Leave System in which they will be paid 50 percent of their daily salary for accrued sick leave. That program, in place two years, has $3.7 million in obligations, Business Manager Broc Lietz said.

The school board meeting will start at 5:30 tonight at the district’s main office, 415 4th St. N.

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