Understanding the Fargo teachers’ union contract

The new 2023-2025 teacher contract agreement between the Fargo school board and the Fargo Education Association recently made headlines for its salary increases.

Teachers certainly have a right to ask the school district for higher wages and make their case to taxpayers, parents, and the school board. I am very supportive of ensuring good teachers are paid at least a living wage and then some. (I taught in a state that pays teachers one of the lowest average teacher salaries in the country.) Educators play a key role in society and matter greatly.

But when talking about salary increases, it’s important to be clear about the numbers. Fargo residents and taxpayers deserve transparency on how teacher raises work.

The new teacher contract includes nearly a 9 percent increase in a teacher’s base salary. But because salary calculations follow a “steps and lanes” salary schedule, there are built-in salary increases for the number of years a teacher has been teaching (“steps”) and the level of education the teacher has (“lanes”).

Let’s look at what the base salary increase paired with the built-in salary schedule increases mean for two hypothetical teachers. (Keep in mind this is just salaries, which are only one part of a teacher’s total compensation.)

Under the new contract, the base salary for teachers with a bachelor’s degree and up to three years of teaching experience is $47,393. As noted above, this is an increase of about 9 percent from the base salary of $43,493 in the 2021-2023 contract.

A teacher entering his or her fourth year moves into a different “step,” receiving an increase based off the new salary base and the increase built into step and lane progression. This means that the teacher is actually receiving a salary increase of just over 10 percent compared to the previous year. And that assumes the teacher does not pursue additional education. Let’s say a teacher is earning a Master’s degree. Under the expired salary schedule, a teacher in his or her fourth year of teaching during the 2022-2023 school year with 45 credits toward the degree received $44,731. Assuming the teacher completed the degree right before the 2023 school year, now under the new salary schedule terms, the teacher would have a salary of $53,412 — an increase of 19.4 percent compared to the previous year.

Given that teacher compensation is the largest expense for school districts, it’s important to understand this piece of it and how increases work within the common “steps and lanes” salary structure.