Reynolds negotiations go to mediation
District, union can't agree on several issues
The Reynolds School District and its teachers union have turned contract negotiations over to a mediator from the Oregon Employment Relations Board after months of talks have failed to yield an agreement.
No date has been set yet for mediation sessions to begin.
The Reynolds Education Association represents 560 teachers, according to Joyce Rosenau, president, and the teachers' contract expired June 30. Negotiations began last May, and the two sides have met eight times.
Since June 30, the teachers have continued to work under their last contract. Most have received step raises, which are tied to the number of years in the district, which average about 3 percent, for 2011-12, according to Joyce Henstrand, district superintendent.
Teachers at the top of the 13-step pay ladder receive no step increases, Henstrand added. On average, a Reynolds teacher makes $62,000, and 18 percent of the district's teachers have topped out on the salary ladder, officials added.
The union wants cost-of-living pay increases in a new contract, along with step increases, but the district doesn't want to offer them. In part, the district notes state funding has been decreasing over the past few years to the district, and Reynolds will need to dip into its reserves in order to keep its budget stable.
'As the revenue from the state declines, the board will need to pull from reserves at a rate of about $4 million per year in order to preserve jobs and a full school year,' Henstrand said. 'This is why they cannot offer (cost of living) raises, steps next year and increased benefits.'
Henstrand said the district would have to lay off employees, cut programs and/or cut school days in order to meet the union's demands.
'The board strongly believes it is their duty to preserve jobs, preserve student instructional programs and preserve the full school year,' she said.
For the union's part, Rosenau said teachers are frustrated that the district won't even consider talking about cost-of-living increases and other issues.
'They never engaged in conversation but merely said no,' she said.
Another sticking point between the two sides is the amount the district contributes to its teachers' health insurance premiums. Under the current contract, the district can contribute up to $900 per month to a teacher's plan, Rosenau said, but the district doesn't want to increase its average contribution.
Rosenau also said teachers spend about 4.5 hours per week on preparation time, which covers the development of lessons and course materials. The current contract requires all prep time must occur during the time students are in school, Henstrand said, but the district wants more flexibility when it comes to its elementary schools.
'On occasion, if we do not have a place to send students, like physical education class, we are asking the teacher to take prep time when students are not present,' she said.
Rosenau countered that teachers are mandated to attend a number of meetings during the week, and are concerned they won't be able to fulfill those obligations if it's not clear when they are supposed to be doing prep work.
Henstrand acknowledged class sizes are larger than they are supposed to be because of the decrease in state funding.
'Since the current financial status of the district and the state does not allow us to guarantee class size, we proposed that class size come out of the contract,' she said, adding that under state law, the district is not required to bargain over class size.
Andrea Watson, spokeswoman for the district, added that if the district met the union's salary and benefit demands, class sizes would increase.
'Additional funding is required to lower class sizes,' she said. 'Increasing costs through additional salary and benefit costs will increase the likelihood that staff reductions would occur, raising class sizes higher.'
Rosenau said the optimum class size for grades fourth through sixth is 27, but in reality, many classes have 30 students. Teachers are concerned that if there are no specific guidelines in a new contract about class size, 'we wouldn't be able to talk about what our class sizes are.'
She added that the union is willing to compromise on all its issues, but reiterated her view that the district is being inflexible.
To learn more about the negotiations between the Reynolds School District and the Reynolds Education Association, visit reynolds.k12.or.us and click 'Negotiations.'