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Union, school district officials enter into private talks to try and reach middle ground

St. Helens union criticized for not presenting counter offers

The contentious labor negotiation process between the St. Helens School District and the teachers union continues to draw strong emotions with district officials recently criticizing the union for not giving counter offers.

At a Sept. 12 meeting, officials criticized the teachers union for not presenting counter offers to a proposed contract, despite union representatives voicing strong concerns about the potential loss of school days and portions of a health care package, for which the district pays 92 percent.

'We had met many, many times and they had made no offer,' said Chairwoman Benita Saatvedt. 'Everything just got off on the wrong foot.'

In a St. Helens Education Association blog post last spring, Keith Meeuwsen, president of the St. Helens Education Association, wrote that lead union negotiator Dusty Humphrey called the school district's negotiation tactics 'evil.'

Not much has improved since the negotiations began last spring, according to district officials.

But in a rare move, Saatvedt and Humphrey have entered into private discussions to reach middle ground on a new contract. It's unclear what benefit the discussions have had, as both sides remain mum on what the talks have covered.

In the past, both sides have said they see little hope for reconciling their differences in the next couple of weeks. That delay will extend the period of time teachers work without a formal contract.

Saatvedt said though cutting school days is one of the main options on the table, and a major sticking point for teachers, it is not ideal.

'We don't want to cut days,' Saatvedt said. 'Some of these districts that cut as many as 15 days, I think they do great disservice to the kids.'