Hearing

About 50 people showed up for a public hearing Thursday to discuss an impasse in contract negotiations between Bismarck teachers and Bismarck Public Schools. Several teachers testified about concerns for safety and the need for a safe work place policy to be included in their contracts.

BLAIR EMERSON, Tribune

Bismarck teachers shared stories of tables being overturned, chairs being thrown and a teacher getting stabbed with scissors at a impasse hearing Thursday at Bismarck High School.

The hearing was held after Bismarck Public Schools and the Bismarck Education Association mutually declared an impasse late last month on teacher contract negotiations. This is the first time an impasse has been declared in the district since 1999.

On Thursday, the North Dakota Education Fact-Finding Commission heard from both sides about what should be included in the negotiated agreement. The commission is composed of Dean Rummel, of Dickinson, Jerry Hieb, of Valley City, and Barbara Evanson, of Bismarck.

Teachers shared their safety concerns and the need for a new safe work place policy, following other districts in the state, including Fargo, which has also requested language be included in the contract describing how violence in the classroom will be dealt with.

In response to a question from Evanson, BPS Superintendent Tamara Uselman said there have been "increasing student behaviors" in recent years. This past school year, there were 10 incidents where teachers and staff needed medical attention.

"We know we have difficult kids, there's no argument about it. I think we do a much better job of tracking incidents that happen, and our policy is designed so if an incident does happen in a school, there is a review that day," said Uselman.

A former third grade teacher testified that she did not receive help from administration in solving a "very serious and persistent problem" in her classroom, where students had been throwing chairs, desks and other supplies.

The commission requested additional data on the number of such incidents in the district from year to year.

Both sides are also at odds over teacher compensation, and the BEA also wants a clearer definition of the length of a teacher's work day. Educators on Thursday said their work days are unstable, and can be difficult to balance with their home life.

Bismarck principals also testified about teacher safety, noting some of the collaborative work between teachers, staff and administrators within their own buildings to ensure safety, including training that's offered.

"Our schools are safe; we have areas we need to improve upon, I need to improve upon in my building, but I would be interested to find out if there's a profession that doesn't have risk," said Simle Middle School Principal Russ Riehl.

The commission will summarize its findings and issue a report by midnight Wednesday. After that, both sides have 20 days to come to an agreement. Rummel said both sides can "fine tune" the recommendations, or completely ignore them, as the recommendations are not binding.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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