FPS Gives School Counselors First Prep Lessons – InForum
FARGO — The Fargo School Board of Education voted 5-3 to allow school counselors to have a structured preparation time each school day, a move spearheaded by the district teachers’ union.
In February, the district teachers’ union filed a Level 3 complaint about school counselors not being given preparation time during the regularly scheduled board meeting on Tuesday, March 22.
The Fargo Education Association union reported that the district is required by law to provide counselors with planning time.
The union’s argument was that because consultants are considered teachers for negotiation purposes, they should be entitled to preparation time. In addition, an increased workload is required of the consultants.
“They all don’t get prep time, and they all don’t get it every day,” said Kim Belgarde, president of the FEA.
“We have come forward and there is no counselor in the state who is given prep time,” said Superintendent Rupak Gandhi, who issued a legal opinion on the complaint, noting that counselors should not be given prep time.
But in West Fargo, consultants are given preparation time early in the day, said David Marquardt, an FEA negotiator.
The district’s main argument was that while school counselors are considered teachers for negotiation purposes, they are not involved as teachers in the classroom and that they already have unstructured preparation time.
School counselors are defined by the district as individuals who design and implement programs that improve student outcomes.
Prosecutor Tara Brandner said it was not an ethical issue but a contractual one.
Belgarde also asked the school board why Gandhi made a decision on the Level 3 appeal. Level 3 complaints are decided by the Board independently of the Superintendent.
Brandner argued that Gandhi provided a legal opinion on the complaint, but the superintendent never made a decision.
“It’s a difference in interpretation. As an administration, we want to know what the appropriate answer is. We welcome this complaint. I never took Tara’s and I’s memo as a real solution because this is at the school board level,” Gandhi said.
In Gandhi’s March 10 letter to the Fargo Board of Education, he argued that the district teachers’ union had never before attempted to argue that school counselors were entitled to preparatory time.
“Previous practice reinforces the administration’s argument that the preparatory period for school counselors does not apply. Up to this point, school counselors were never given or asked for preparation time,” Gandhi wrote.
Assistant Superintendent Bob Grosz, in a February 23 letter to district counselors, clarified that he met with a group of counselors to discuss the challenges of providing indirect services to students due to the high demand for direct service.
So far, consultants have been given a “duty-free” lunch, which is undefined and does not count as hourly compensation if missed, Grosz said. In addition, indirect service times are not planning or preparation times, but are defined as consulting, collaboration or mediation times.
Direct services are face-to-face interactions between school counselors and students to instruct, evaluate, or advise them.
“If an emergency arises and requires a consultant not to use their duty-free lunch or indirect service time, consultants should reschedule those times later in the day/week,” Grosz wrote.