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Reynolds dispute heading back to table

Money, other issues still divide school district, union
by: Jim Clark, Reynolds teachers picket outside Reynolds High School

Reynolds School District teachers will be on strike until at least Wednesday, May 23, after an extended mediated negotiation session failed to produce a contract agreement May 21.

Both sides will meet again at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 23, at New Beginnings Church, 3300 N.E. 172nd Place, Portland. School will remain closed Wednesday, the district said.

According to the district, the union rejected its latest proposal, which contained 'concessions in contract language' and a financial package of more than $3.8 million in additional budget costs for 2011-14. The union 'returned a two-year proposal that would be $4 million higher than the district's plan during the same three-year period,' the district added.

Meanwhile, in a May 22 statement, union officials said they had actually met the district's financial demands during the last negotiating session, but were rejected. However, the district claimed the union's math is flawed and does not reflect the true costs of the union's proposals, which would still result in teacher layoffs and/or cut days if implemented.

Joyce Rosenau, president of the Reynolds Education Association, said, 'We're having a hard time coming up with something that's acceptable to our members that's under $4 million for three years,' noting union members still have concerns over step pay increases and health benefits, as well as working conditions. She added that the union did offer a deal slightly under $4 million in additional costs over two years. She also said that her members are united in their cause.

'I know that all of my teachers are asking that the bargaining team stay strong,' she said. 'They are asking for respect, and now they're putting their bodies on the line for it.'

The district has maintained for several weeks that it is unable to offer a financial package to the union totaling more than $4 million in additional costs over three years if it is to stay in the black and avoid increasing class sizes and laying off teachers. Teachers have countered they believe the district needs to spend more of its current funding, including its surpluses, on hiring teachers to decrease classroom sizes, as opposed to spending it on administration and other areas.

The last mediation session began at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 20, and ended before 11:30 a.m. May 21. The teachers went on strike at 6 a.m. Monday after negotiations failed to produce a new contract agreement between the district and its union.

'Once a settlement is reached, the district will plan for and announce the earliest possible school reopening date,' the district stated.

The strike affects 10,270 students.

Tense moments

Jesse Reschke, a crisis coordinator with the Oregon Education Association, said the Reynolds union had received reports of at least 10 vehicles, which union officials believe were being driven by district employees, striking picketers at various sites throughout the district on May 21.

However, he said no serious injuries were reported.

As of early afternoon, May 23, Fairview Police had received no reports of such incidents, according to Chief Ken Johnson. However, Rosenau countered that police were declining to take reports from picketers claiming to have been hit by vehicles.

On that note, Johnson said that picketers have been claiming to have been hit when in reality they did not move out of the way of school entrances and exits which they are not allowed to legally block.

'You can't continually block a driveway, that's against the law, ' he said. 'Obstructing traffic in that way is a Class B misdemeanor, and what we're most concerned about is keeping everyone safe. We want to see this resolved without anybody hurt.'

Reschke added that there were no reports of any arrests or citations at any of the picket sites.

One picketer, Gary Schuh, a sixth-grade teacher at Walt Morey Middle School, said May 22 'things have been really cordial today,' and noted many school parents had verbally offered him support at the picket outside his school. He listed preparation time and work conditions, including overcrowded classrooms, among his concerns, and noted Reynolds teachers are willing to make financial concessions, having voluntarily taken pay freezes in years past to help the district.

'Those kinds of pay freezes are career-lasting,' Schuh said, noting their effect on pensions as well as the size of future pay raises. 'That impacts you for the rest of your working life.'

The teachers' contract expired June 30, 2011. Negotiations began in May 2011.

Parent info

The district has established these strike hotlines for parents to call:

English - 503-491-3405.

Spanish - 503-491-3434.

Russian - 503-491-3435.

Parents are also urged to visit the district website at Reynolds.k12.or.us for updates.

Parents who want to register their children for kindergarten next fall should note registration is taking place through May 24 at various elementary schools.

Other school-sponsored activities that do not involve teachers include fifth-grade parent orientation at H.B. Lee and Walt Morey middle schools (but not at Reynolds); a middle school year-end invitational track at Mt. Hood Community; and various high school-sponsored after-school athletic camps.

Parents who need more information should call their child's school.

Parties' sites

For more information on the district's side, visit Reynolds.k12.or.us.

For more information on the union's side, visit facebook.com/ReynoldsEducators.