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Teacher negotiations with school board ongoing

Ground rules for the ongoing course of negotiations between the Dickinson Public School Board and the Dickinson Education Association were finalized early during a Thursday night meeting at the Central Administration Building.

The meeting established Aug. 19 as the timeframe for the completion of negotiations. The two sides will meet again at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

A one-and-a-half hour time limit for each subsequent meeting was established, as well as prohibited public participation without the approval of both parties of negotiators.

After the ground rules were finalized, the “attitudes” of the meeting were adopted and summarized by Dickinson High School teacher and negotiator Jim Fahy.

“We’re all here for the exact same reasons. That is, the success of our students,” he said.

After rules and attitudes were established, the two sides created a ranked list of eight agenda items to be pursued throughout the negotiations.

The topic of salary ranked highest.

Other items included adjusting compensation to address outside-contract days, meaning hours worked outside the contracted teaching day, and the possibility of enacting a two-year contract.

Personal leave was ranked as an equal priority to the two-year contract, and was broken into two subcategories, both of which addressed increases to paid leave, with the first being a proposed accumulation of up to eight personal days and the second being a graduated increase based on years of employment at the school.

The final four items included increasing flexibility of accounting for professional development days, adjusting the lower half of the district salary schedule to better align with the top, changing the grievance procedure applied to teachers and placing summer school teaching on the salary schedule.

After establishing the hierarchy of issues, the negotiating teams looked more closely at the top four agenda items.

As per their collaborative bargaining procedures, they began by writing out the agenda item and then establishing a “problem statement” that defined their approach to the item as a group.

The teams began with salary and identified the ability to attract and retain high-quality teachers as the guiding value of that agenda item.

They then briefly debated whether they should discuss actual monetary figures, but decided to wait until they discussed the single topic in more detail at a later date.

One problem statement pointed to the need for fair compensation for required work beyond a teacher’s contract, and the two-year contract item emphasized simplicity and continuity for individuals and schools.

The theme of retention was repeated in the personal leave discussion. Teachers suggested that increasing personal days would “increase morale and school climate” by rewarding veteran teachers, and the board agreed.

Fehr said she thought the meeting was productive and pointed to the collaborative process.

“I really appreciated the open and cooperative attitude with the teacher-negotiators,” she said.

Many of the items introduced at the meeting were expected, Fehr said, but some of them were more surprising.

“We always talk about salary,” she said. “We knew we were going to talk about the contract days. We knew we were going to talk about the two-year contract. I didn’t know about the personal leave part. It’s an interesting concept. ... Some of those I hadn’t thought of.”

Fahy thought the meeting was “amicable for both sides.”

He hoped to finish writing the problem statements at the next meeting and begin the next stage of negotiation.

“We’ll say, ‘OK, here’s the problem. What are our solutions?’” he said. “Then we’ll start to figure out what is going to work the best for both sides so that we can come up with the solutions.”

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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