ND School Boards Association holds negotiations seminar

Feb 9, 2018

Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

The North Dakota School Boards Association held a seminar on teacher negotiations in Bismarck.

This comes as school districts are struggling with tight budgets.

The 2017 Legislature did not cut funding for local schools, but it didn’t increase funding, either. North Dakota School Boards Association Executive Director Alexis Baxley said that’s put a number of districts between a rock and a hard place.

"A lot of districts have their teachers on increase schedules, or tiers," Baxley said. "The districts want to do good by their teachers, and want to pay them well. So it is between a rock and a hard place."

Baxley said some districts see a money problem.

"If they don't have the money, they don't have the money," Baxley said. "But they have to look at keeping the top talent they have, and continue to reward them."

Baxley said last year, a number of school districts settled with their teachers on one year contracts, instead of two years. And a number went to impasse. But Baxley said she thinks teachers have a better understanding of the financial limitations some districts have.

"I anticipate a number of districts will look at things other than fiscal issues," Baxley said. "Whether that be safe work environments, or some other policies."

Montana School Boards Association director of labor relations Andy Sever speaks to the ND School Boards Association negotiations seminar in Bismarck.
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

One of the speakers at the  Negotiations Seminar has experience on both sides of the contract talks with teachers.

"I started about 15-20 years ago, working for the Montana Federation of Teachers," said Andy Sever, the director of labor relations for the Montana School Boards Association. "About five years after that, I went to work for the School Boards Association."

Sever said he has a unique understanding of the issues both boards and teachers face. He said he’s seen trust grow between teachers and school boards – but he has also seen trust erode. Sever said that depends on the culture, the environment – and the people involved.

"It's mostly people," Sever said. "You would think that a lack of resources would cause that erosion in trust. But in my experience, that has not been the case."

Sever said sometimes it's easier to settle a contract, if you don't have any money.

"There's nothing to fight over," Sever said.

Sever said negotiators should start look at negotiations differently, to make the process better and more collaborative.

"They need to understand the need to work on relationships," Sever said. "Make changes in a positive way, rather than a combative way."