When the state’s Education Factfinding Commission meets in Williston Wednesday, its attempt to resolve the impasse between Williston Public School District 1 and the Williston Education Association will have to balance teachers’ salary requests with a projected budget deficit for the district.
The commission will hold a public meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the Jon Cole Gymnasium at Williston High School. At that meeting the district and WEA will have a chance to make their cases about their contract positions, and the public will also have a chance to be heard.
The main issue that drove the district and WEA to agree on declaring an impasse was the teachers’ request that the district stick to its existing salary schedule and the district’s contention that it had to put annual raises on hold for two years while it dealt with financial troubles.
At the negotiation meeting June 7 where an impasse was declared, WEA gave up earlier demands for an increase to the district’s base salary for new teachers, but was unwilling to withdraw its proposal that teachers continue to get annual step raises.
“The salary schedule we have in place has been in place for many years,” Matt Leibel, a WEA negotiator, said. “It’s the cost of doing business.”
The district can’t afford to give step raises because it’s currently facing a budget deficit, Rachel Bruner-Kaufman, the district’s attorney said.
“The yearly steps are not good for the district, because the steps range so high,” she said.
The highest annual steps are more than $2,000, she said.
At that meeting, Bruner-Kaufman also handed out a spreadsheet that showed the salaries for teachers with varying levels of experience in Williston, in large districts around the state and at districts in western North Dakota.
For the most part, teachers in Williston do better than those in other districts, she said.
The starting salary for a new teacher, including retirement contributions from the district, is $44,951.44. Only two of the state’s large districts, Belcourt and Bismarck, pay more, at $46,935 and $45,577, respectively.
For local districts, five of nine pay more for new teachers: Williams County Public School District 8, Tioga, Divide County, New Town and McKenzie County.
For teachers with 10 years of experience and 16 credits toward an advanced degree, though, Williston tops all the other districts it was compared to, at $66,558.30. The same is true for teachers with a master’s degree and 15 years of experience. In Williston, such teachers make $76,973.40.
Only one district in the comparison, District 8, pays more for its top rate. Williston’s maximum salary for teachers is $87,736.04, while District 8’s maximum is $91,579.13.
For annual increases, the steps range from a few hundred dollars to $2,233.50.
New teachers in Williston with just a bachelor’s degree have a base salary of $40,225, which would increase to $40.811.25 after one year under the current salary schedule.
For those with 16 credits toward an advanced degree, the step between their first and second years is $1,411.25. Those with a master’s or higher have the biggest step raise between their first and second years, at $2,233.50.
At the June 7 meeting, the district called a special school board meeting to discuss the salary steps and came back with an offer of a $100 annual raise for each teacher.
That was a difficult agreement for the board to reach, Bruner-Kaufman said.
“I think Williston is in a worse financial position than Fargo or Grand Forks, and they have started the impasse process,” she said.
The district contacted the Education Factfinding Commission on June 8. By law, the commission has 40 days from then to gather information and make its recommendation to the board and WEA. If the commission’s recommendation doesn’t resolve the impasse, its report is made public between 10 and 20 days after it was issued.