Teacher negotiations between Dickinson Public Schools and the Dickinson Education Association were finalized this week and included changes in preparation time, schedules and retirement contributions.

DEA representative Jim Fahy of Dickinson High School said the union's main goal this year was ensuring classroom safety for teachers and students.

"There's lots of issues that are occurring all over the state, all over the nation right now in classrooms with teachers being bitten, spit at, hit, stabbed and we are seeing an increase of that in our schools as well, and we want to make sure our teachers are safe," he said.

Fahy said Superintendent Shon Hocker agreed to put together a task force to investigate the problem and how best to address it, then revisit it in a year or two.

"That task force would have representation of teachers at all levels, in special education as well as general education, to deal with not only the mental (illness) area ... but this one is behavioral, and that isn't always mental-illness related," Fahy said. "This task force he promised to put together will hopefully put together some ideas that will help make our classrooms safer for all of our students and for teachers."

The definition of a school day was changed from a specific time range to a number of hours - 7 ¾ hours each day - to allow for more flexibility in the schedule.

"It allows more flexibility for administration and for schools to start classes earlier or to run classes later, as students' needs might dictate," Fahy said. "In a few years, the high school may have to have a different schedule which will start earlier and run later, and this would give them an opportunity to do that without having to run it through the negotiations again."

Changes were made to teachers' prep time, as well. Each teacher will receive a minimum of 45 minutes for lunch and 1.5 hours for preparation and/or professional collaboration time per day, with collaboration time now capped at 75 minutes per week.

Fahy said that while collaboration time is important, they wanted to make sure that teachers had the individual prep time they need to plan and provide feedback to students.

"Prep is so very important for our teachers," Fahy said. "Parents and students need that instant feedback and our prep time is the time that we are able to provide that instant feedback, to prepare for the lessons. ... Teachers are notorious for taking work home and working well into the night and all weekend long, so we want to make sure that they can enjoy their families as well."

Some teachers will make more money next year, not due to a raise but rather to the salary schedule they already had in place.

"They received advancement on the salary schedule in what we refer to as steps, so basically they went from a one year teacher to a two year teacher and that was equivalent to at least a two percent pay raise," Hocker said.

The salary schedule determines the pay rate for teachers and is based partially on experience.

"If you take a look at our salary schedule ... every year of experience you get a bump (in pay) ... This was the first negotiations I've been a part of that they've utilized that (salary) step as a pay raise. It's always just been a given," Fahy said.

While teachers did not get a raise, they did receive an increase in the district's contribution to their retirement. In the 2019-2020 school year, the district will contribute an additional 1.5% to the Teachers' Fund for Retirement, the teachers' benefits program. In the next year of the teachers' two-year contract, the district will contribute 2%.

There will no longer be a distinction between sick leave, personal leave and emergency leave days. All such days off will now be considered Paid Time Off days.

Like most things, it's a give and take. The change makes for more flexibility in the days off, but teachers will receive less days overall. Instead of receiving 17-18 total days (most of them sick days), they will now receive 13 PTO days to be used however they choose.

"You only received as a teacher 2 or 3 personal leave days and then the rest were sick leave days," said Hocker. "You got like 15 sick leave days and 2 or 3 personal leave days and this way now you can have any - your days don't have to be defined by being sick or being out."

Dickinson School Board Vice President Kim Schwartz and Michelle Orton were the Board representatives in teacher negotiations. Representatives from the Dickinson Education Association (DEA) were Dickinson High School teachers Jim Fahy and Jay Schobinger, Heart River Elementary teacher Shawna Knipp, and Roosevelt Elementary teacher Sara Berglund.