District reveals teacher contract offer in report

Contract negotiations still under way
Teacher contract negotiations are still under way in School District 509-J, but Shawn Swisher, the district's legal counsel, publicly revealed the district's offer during a report to the board of directors Monday night.
   Swisher, with High Desert Education Service District legal services, is part of the 509-J bargaining team. The (regional) Cascade Bargaining Council and Madras Education Association (local teachers union) negotiate for the teachers.
   "We started negotiating in April and it's been a long haul, but we've narrowed it down to seven differences," Swisher said.
   He also said he felt some incorrect information was being circulated. "I want to clarify some of the conflicting messages that have been brought to our attention," Swisher said commenting on the following:
   . Contract language: He said 509-J was not trying to force teachers to take break time outside of student contact time.
   . Layoff procedures: He said the MEA asked for a mandatory meeting before any layoff action. "(509-J) doesn't want a mandatory meeting, but would still meet if requested," he said.
   . On complaint procedure: Both sides are close to a resolution on this issue.
   . Teacher evaluation: MEA requested the evaluation committee make decisions by consensus. "Consensus means that if one person disagrees, then you can't move forward," Swisher said, adding, "I'd never recommend consensus."
   He also said "specific, measurable criteria" for meeting the goals of a teacher program of assistance was not language he would recommend. "Many employee issues are not quantifiable, but are qualitative, such as classroom management or the way they interact with parents," he said.
   In the area of salary increases, 509-J is currently offering a 0.5 percent cost of living increase, and 1 percent increase on the teacher's insurance cap this year. Step and column increases were already given at the beginning of the school year.
   "These increases, along with the additional staffing made earlier this year in response to high class sizes, cost more than $700,000," Swisher said.
   Earlier, classified employees had agreed to have their step increases frozen, but with teachers getting step increases, 509-J decided to be equitable to all staff and restore step increases to classified employees.
   The offer to teachers is part of a three-year contract. The second year (2013-14) would include step increases, a 0.5 percent cost of living increase, and 1 percent insurance cap increase. The third year, talks would be reopened, in case the economy changes.
   Swisher said 509-J values teachers, but also has concerns about long-term sustainability. Concerns include federal funding being targeted for reductions, School Improvement Grants ending at Madras High School and Jefferson County Middle School, and upcoming PERS increases.
   Swisher listed positives for teachers in the 509-J District, including: The district did not cut any school days to save money, reimbursements for professional development classes for teachers, some of the smallest teacher/student ratios, the highest insurance cap and licensed salary schedule in Central Oregon.
   John Witty, also with High Desert ESD legal services, reviewed the negotiation issues as a third party and gave his observations.
   "The two parties are not all that far apart," he said, recommending that the board and teachers union consider bringing in a mediator.
   Construction projects
   In other business, following a workshop by construction projects manager Dave Fishel and representatives from BBT Architects, the board voted to approve the project management committee's recommendation to use the construction manager/general contractor method of contracting for the Madras and Warm Springs bond measure projects.
   Instead of a low-bid process, the CM/GC process brings the contractor in early in the process to help with planning. A guaranteed maximum price for the CM/GC is established before constructions begins, and a public competitive bid process is used for subcontracts and suppliers.
   This method will result in substantial savings to the district, Fishel said.
   BBT Architects, represented by Renee Alexander and Todd Turner, said they are planning to hold three community forums to establish guidelines, brainstorm site and floor plans, and give the community progress reports.
   Fishel said Thursdays have been set aside for core team meetings in Warm Springs and Madras, with board members Stan Sullivan and Laurie Danzuka focusing on the K-8 Warm Springs school, and board members Brad Holliday, Lyle Rehwinkel and Tom Norton alternating on the Madras area projects.