Factfinding commission recommends slight salary increase for Minot teachers

The North Dakota Education Factfinding Commission is recommending a very slight increase – $100 – in the salary for a beginning teacher in the Minot Public Schools. That would take the base salary for a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience to $42,488 and for a teacher at the top of the salary schedule to $78,079 per year. The recommendation was made in a report the commission delivered Tuesday regarding the contract negotiations impasse between the Minot Education Association and the Minot Public School Board. A hearing on the impasse was held June 5 at Minot High School-Central Campus.

Salaries have been a major sticking point in the negotiations. The MEA’s final proposal was a $600 increase on the base salary for a beginning teacher, while the school board had refused to increase the base salary, citing a projected $3.3 million budget deficit for the coming year. The board negotiators said the district would honor the existing salary schedule and allow teachers to move up on the schedule and earn more money based on additional education and additional experience. The district would also pay the same percentage of health insurance as this school year, with employees also paying the same percentage as this year. Business manager Scott Moum had estimated the cost of the district proposal at just over $1 million.

Teacher and school board negotiators are scheduled to meet at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the factfinding committee’s recommendations, said board negotiator Mark Lyman on Tuesday. The two sides have 20 days after receiving the report to arrive at an agreement. If they fail to do so, the entire commission report will be published in the newspaper of record along with the factfinding commission’s explanation of why negotiations failed and which side they judge to be at fault.

The recommendation made by the factfinding commission is not binding; the school district would be able to impose a contract on teachers if the two sides fail to reach agreement.

Members of the state factfinding commission are Dean Rummel, chairman, and commission members Jerry Hieb and Barb Evanson.

Salaries

The three-member commission said in its recommendation that it took the district’s projected deficit into account in making its salary recommendation.

“The District is projected to have a deficit of $3.3 million in 2017-2018,” wrote the commissioners. “The ending General Fund Balance is projected to decline from 17 (percent) to 14 (percent) of expenditures. Salary and benefit increases are reducing the ending balance in the General Fund and this cannot be sustained unless revenue exceeds expenditures in the immediate future. The estimated cost of the 2018-2019 base increase along with the increases for education and experience is estimated at $1.375 million. This will probably cause the District to deficit spend again in 2018-2019.

“The District’s general fund property tax mill levy is at the maximum and so is the Miscellaneous Levy. The taxable valuation in the District declined 7 (percent) last year and is projected to decline an additional 2.5 (percent) this year. The District has $56.4 million of debt. A Building Fund Levy would require voter approval of 60 (percent) plus one vote. That would be very challenging with the current economic conditions in the District. There are virtually no opportunities for increased funding and there appears to be additional risk for decreased funding.

The District is self-insured for health insurance. There is risk in being self-insured and the District has managed part of that risk with a $100,000 stop-loss per individual. The District provides an outstanding health care package and it would be rated as one of the very best among all school districts in the State.

Enrollment for the District is 7,405 and very even for 2018-2019. Peak enrollment was 7,621 in 2014-2015. A decline in enrollment would be a major concern since funding from the State is based on Average Daily Membership (ADM) and the State has provided no increase per ADM this biennium.

Take-home pay after Jan. 31, 2018 has increased for nearly all certified employees due to the decrease in federal income taxes.

The District’s summary of negotiations from 2009-2018 for the total package showed cumulative increases of 51.6 (percent) compared to the Consumer Price Index cumulative increase of 16.1 (percent).”

Sick leave

Another point of contention has been the district’s sick leave policy. Teachers wanted to change the language in the policy to enable them to take up to seven days of their sick leave to care for an adult child over the age of 21, as well as their ill spouse, parents, dependents and minor children and stepchildren. The school board negotiators had proposed allowing teachers to use up to seven sick leave days to care for dependents who are covered by their health insurance, including adult children over 21. But teachers want to use the leave to care for adult children who are not covered by their health insurance. Right now they can take emergency leave, but must pay for a substitute during the time they are gone.

The Factfinding Commission didn’t adopt either proposal. Instead, it recommends that the establish a Catastrophic Leave Time Bank. Under the recommendation, employees could donate their personal leave days to the bank for use by other teachers. “The comments received from the audience seemed to be all dealing with major medical or ‘catastrophic’ events,” the commission members wrote in their recommendation. “The Bank would allow employees to donate excess personal leave days at their contracted daily rate. The negotiated agreement allows employees to receive $140 for each personal day above (three) or to transfer those days to sick leave. At the end of this fiscal year 176 days were paid out for unused personal leave over the maximum accumulation amount. This is a wonderful opportunity for employees to help other employees. We recommend that you establish an approval process that provides data privacy and security provision for safeguarding medical information per the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.”

School safety

In an anonymous survey, over half the teachers who responded said they had been physically assaulted in the classroom at some point in their careers. Teacher negotiators had wanted language included in the negotiated contract that would require establishment of a committee to look at school safety issues. The board negotiators were open to a committee, but didn’t think it needed to be in the contract.

The factfinding commission is recommending that the two sides adopt the board’s recommendation for a “creation of an Administrative Regulation forming a Safety and Health Committee.” Both the teachers association and the district would appoint an equal number of members to serve on the committee, which would meet at least once a month to review injuries and safety issues.

The factfinding commission noted in its recommendation that nothing it could recommend would solve all of the safety issues that were mentioned by teachers in their pre-hearing report and at the hearing. They said school safety is a concern at the local, state and national level.

The commissioners did say in their recommendation that they was impressed by a North Dakota Safety Council presentation that was given during the hearing on June 5.

“Minot is one of just a few school districts in the State engaged with NDSC to provide on-site building assessment, administrator training and teacher training,” they wrote in the recommendation. “The NDSC Safety program is approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is being utilized nationally. Their objective with teacher workplace safety is to educate and inform teachers on what steps to take to lower their risk of being involved in a verbal or physical altercation in the performance of their duties. The Commission would encourage Minot to provide this NDSC Teacher course on workforce safety as quickly as possible.”

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