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Dickinson teacher contract talks at halt again

The Dickinson Public School Board and Dickinson Education Association have failed to come to an agreement, leaving the DPS Board with the unilateral authority to issue contracts based on its final offer.

The mood was jovial and the house was packed as teachers, administrators, board members and other interested parties shuffled into the Dickinson Public Schools Central Administration Building on Wednesday evening.

The collaborative bargaining team met for the first time since it came to an impasse in May and went in front of the Governor's Education Factfinding Commission in June.

"Of course we want to still talk if we can talk," School Board President Kris Fehr said.

The bargaining began again after the group discussed the Factfinding Commission's report.

"It was pretty much 100 percent in favor of the board, except for taking one day off the table," said Brian Woehl, lead negotiator for the DEA and an auto shop teacher at Dickinson High School.

But after tough subjects were brought to the table, the group hit the ground running.

"We've come a long ways together and today has been wonderful in regards to finally talking," said Jim Fahy, a member of the DEA negotiating team and social studies teacher at DHS.

The two contention points for the group leading up to the impasse hearing were salary and professional development days.

The differing salary offers were close, with the DPS Board offering $38,500 for the initial year of a first-year teacher's contract and $40,200 for the second year of the contract. The DEA wanted $39,600 in the first year and $42,000 in the second.

The board said if it were to increase its offer to match the teacher's asking salary, it did not know where the funds would come from.

There are funds for rapid growth and oil impact coming from the state, Assistant Superintendent Vince Reep said when asked by Woehl.

"I'm not sure it's wise to count on one-time money because it's not coming back again the next year and the next year," Fehr said.

The teachers have felt that their professional development days have been wasted in the past, especially those in specialty fields.

"If they were productive, if they were good value to them, but they haven't seen that other than a few of them," Fahy said. "The teachers are not seeing the value because they see intermittent spots of, 'Yes!' and then we see the other times going, 'Oh, this has nothing to do with my subject.'"

The DEA would be willing to add more professional development days if it had proof that they would be worthwhile, Fahy said.

In the end, the board offered the conditions of the Factfinding Commission's report. The DEA wanted to accept year one and head back to the bargaining table in the fall for year two.

The board stood hard at the Factfinding Commission's recommendations after a five-minute break.

"Good-faith negotiations are at an end because we're not agreeing," Fehr said.

The DPS Board will hold a special meeting at noon today at the Central Administration Building to discuss contracts further.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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