As the negotiating season for teachers and school boards gets underway, teachers are focusing on a few big issues.
One is funding.
"By and large, I think you can see morale is not as good as it could be," said North Dakota United president Nick Archuleta. ND United represents teachers. "They're unsure of what the funding levels for schools will look like in the next biennium."
Archuleta said when state Legislators return in January, they're going to have to figure out how to handle a projected $400 million deficit in state revenue.
"That's going to require some very imaginatve funding," Archuleta said.
Archuleta said although North Dakota's economy is improving -- compared to this time in 2016 -- the revenue streams K-12 education depended on in the 2017 session have not yet recovered.
One of those funding sources is the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund, which the 2017 Legislature drained to help make sure K-12 schools would not see funding cuts. That fund is starting to recover, but Archuleta said it isn’t recovering as fast as teachers had hoped.
"Now there is the Legacy Fund," Archuleta said. "The Lgislature will have an awful lot of discussion about what they can spend from that fund."
Earnings from the Legacy Fund go into the state’s General Fund. But if lawmakers want to dip into the principle, it would take a two-thirds vote of both houses.
"We certainly look forward to being a part of those discussions," Archuleta said.
School safety – especially in the classroom – could also be a big issue again as teachers sit down with school boards to negotiate contracts.
That issue became contentious during last year’s negotiations in some school districts.
"It was one of the most compelling issues that drove Fargo and Bismarck to impasse last year," Archuleta said. "Teachers are seeing more and more student behaviors that imperil not just themselves, or education support professionals, but also other students."
In the Fargo district, by the end of April, for the 2017-2018 school year, there were 510 reports of students physically assaulting a teacher or other school employee. That was up from 341 in the 2016-2017 school year.
"As I was going around the state and talking with teachers, they understand the most important thing a school district has to be responsible for is to provide a safe learning space for those children," Archuleta said. "That's the same workspace for teachers. If you can't provide one, you're not providing the other."
In Bismarck, a committee was set up between teachers and the administration to discuss it further, and document reported incidents.