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Helmut Schmidt, Published May 28 2013

FEA to vote on teacher contract

FARGO – The last hurdles appear to have been cleared Tuesday in contract talks between the Fargo School Board and its teachers union.

“At this point in time, we feel we’re done negotiating,” board President Jim Johnson said shortly after a closed session of the board reviewed the FEA’s counteroffer on pay and the union’s stance on how to mediate future impasses in contract talks.

Johnson said the union will receive a copy of the new contract to present to teachers Thursday.

If FEA members approve the contract, it will go to the board for final approval June 11.

FEA President Kim Belgarde beamed at the news.

“I’m very pleased. Our negotiations were the best I’ve seen,” she said.

The FEA’s pay plan calls for adding $350 to the base pay for teachers in the 2013-14 school year, up from the $305 proposed by the school board.

Then, following a board proposal, $900 is added to each cell of the salary matrix, which distributes pay based on teacher seniority and education level.

That would add $2,143,196 in salary alone to the budget, bringing total teacher salaries (and others covered by the FEA contract) to $54,375,917 in 2013-14, Business Manager Broc Lietz said.

The lowest-paid teacher would get $38,045 a year and the highest-paid $72,961 per year.

In 2014-15, $1,245 would be added to the base pay of teachers, plus $900 per cell in the matrix.

The lowest-paid teacher would get $39,290, while the highest-paid would get $75,377 per year.

That would raise salary costs $2,472,953 to $56,848,870 in 2014-15, documents show.

But salary didn’t seem to be the biggest sticking point Monday. Instead, it was how to create a mediation panel for future contract impasses that met resistance from some board negotiators.

The FEA wants each side to name one adviser to the mediation panel, with a third, the chairman, chosen by the first two. But the panel could not include school board members or Fargo Public Schools employees.

The school board wanted to allow board and FEA members not on their respective negotiating teams to sit on the panel.

Board member John Strand seemed flabbergasted the FEA would consider impasse over the issue.

“I can’t fathom that … this would be a deal-breaker,” Strand said.

But in the end, the issue apparently wasn’t as big for the school board.

“There’s no reason for us to get back together,” Johnson said.

In other business, the board considered two plans to publicly broadcast future board meetings.

For a time, the independent People’s Press Project had taped Fargo School Board meetings and webcast them. But that ended several months ago.

One plan would provide a delayed broadcast of the meetings using camcorders and related equipment. It was estimated to cost $5,415.70, plus staffing costs for camera and editing personnel.

The other plan called for live broadcasts of meetings by outfitting the boardroom with equipment similar to what the city of Fargo uses to broadcast its meetings.

That cost was estimated to be between $41,200 and $58,200, plus staffing costs.

Board members seemed split on the pluses and minuses, eventually agreeing to ask administrators to determine the staffing costs for each alternative.

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