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Bismarck teachers are negotiating to get an increase in pay, as well as more work done related to classroom safety.

On Wednesday, representatives from the Bismarck Education Association and the school district held a three-hour negotiations meeting, according to Mike Crouse, lead negotiator for the BEA.

The BEA and the school district came in with several different proposals. For salary, the BEA is seeking a 4% increase in each year over the next two years, while the district is looking to do a 1.6% increase in the first year and 2% in the second year.

Bismarck superintendent Jason Hornbacher said a 1.6% increase would equate to roughly $1 million. In the first year, teachers would see, on average, a $965 increase, and, in the second year, an average increase of $1,219.

Despite the difference in salary proposals, Hornbacher said he's "hopeful" the two sides will come to an agreement.

"I think we're going to come together and we're going to reach an agreement," he said.

Teachers negotiate contracts every two years. In 2017, a key issue for the Bismarck teachers union was classroom safety. An impasse was declared in part due to classroom safety discussions, and, ultimately, the district and the BEA agreed to create a Health and Safety Committee to address safety incidents.

Crouse said teachers "weren't satisfied with how it ended last time with regards to safety," so they brought forth a proposal again this year.

The proposal covers compensation for time lost and medical bills for teachers injured on the job, the cost of damage to personal property and involves teachers participating in policy discussions regarding safety in schools.

"The teachers are the ones on the front lines," Crouse said. "We feel our opinions are important and should be valued."

Crouse said they surveyed BEA members prior to negotiations this year about safety. Questions included whether they had ever felt threatened by a student in the past few years and if they had ever been injured by a student.

For both questions, a high number of teachers answered yes, or "enough to add it to the negotiated agreement," according to Crouse.

Crouse said teachers also were asked if they were aware of steps the district was taking regarding classroom safety, and a majority said they had not.

During negotiations so far this year, Crouse said the district representatives have provided additional information about what steps the district is taking.

"That was very reassuring, for them to at least acknowledge that safety is a concern for us, and that they are making efforts," Crouse said.

Hornbacher said the district is being proactive in addressing safety as whole — for students, teachers and at the building level. This includes hiring additional teachers to work in overcrowded classrooms, staff training and community partnerships.

"The way I'm viewing student safety is prevention," he said, adding that this is continually discussed, not just during teacher negotiations. "How do we collectively work toward safe environments for everybody?"

Crouse said he's "happy" with the rate of progress that they've made so far during negotiations. He said he's also pleased to have school board members at the negotiations table this year.

The next negotiations meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

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

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