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Schools, teachers reach agreement

After eight months of negotiations
The Madras Education Association teachers union and 509-J School District have reached a tentative contract agreement after eight months of negotiations.
   MEA President Carrie McPeak told School District 509-J board members at their Nov. 26 meeting, "We're really proud of our teachers, who make the most difference with the kids. We appreciated getting to know each other through negotiations and are looking forward to a spirit of collaboration with the district and the board."
   The regional Cascade Bargaining Council did the negotiating for the MEA.
   Superintendent Rick Molitor noted, "We're happy negotiations are settled. It's been a long, hard process, but our intent is to come out stronger. Carrie hit it on the nose -- what happens in the classroom is what it's all about."
   "We are asking our staff to work harder. What's happening in the classroom is exciting and what we've accomplished is incredible," Molitor said, adding he can't find another similar district that's made the increases (in achievement) that 509-J has.
   The contract is tentative, because it is still being written to include a memorandum of agreement.
   It includes:
   . A 1 percent salary increase, and 2 percent insurance cap increase for 2012-13 and 2013-14.
   The third year (2014-15), financial negotiations and two issues per side will be reopened for discussion, in case the economy has improved. The financial increases are retroactive to July 1, the beginning of the district's fiscal year.
   . A memorandum of agreement to hold district/labor management meetings to discuss contract language issues informally.
   . New language defining staff time for early release, after hours faculty meetings, and parent conferences.
   . New language to limit interruptions to teachers' preparation time, and to exempt sixth grade from preparation time.
   . When a reduction in staff or a recall of staff is needed, the MEA will be notified prior to board action, and may schedule a meeting to give input before any layoffs.
   . For teacher evaluations, new language will define the purpose of an evaluation, the evaluation committee, and plans of assistance.
   . For complaints, new language will include the signature of the complainant or administrator.
   With the teachers' contract settled, Molitor said the district was also working on agreements to arrange for equitable pay for classified employees, and administrative and supervisory employees. Both had previously agreed to a salary freeze, but will now receive a 1 percent cost-of-living increase.
   "We're working to get those done for the December paycheck," he said.
   The board voted to accept the tentative contract. After the memorandum of agreement is written, a complete contract will be brought to the board for signing.
   In other personnel matters, Molitor said several applications had been received to fill Dan Chamness' position as chief financial officer, and the three top candidates would be interviewed this Wednesday.
   On the building projects, Molitor said an aggressive schedule was being followed to have the new Warm Springs Elementary, stadium, performing arts center, and other buildings open by 2014.
   "The Warm Springs project is still on schedule, but bringing in the USDA (loan partner) could delay things a bit," Molitor said, noting all Warm Springs change orders will have to be approved by the USDA, which takes more time.
   Conceptual drawings will be viewed at Warm Springs on Thursday, and the bonding process will be done in January or February.
   Contracts with BBT Architects were approved for both the Warm Springs and Madras area construction projects.
   In trying to make the most use of local vendors, there was discussion about the possibility of switching the vendor for the American Funds 403b plan (employee retirement funds) from Bend representative Mel Walters, who has managed the funds since 1997, to Annette Vardanega, who has the Madras Edward Jones office.
   A committee of teachers and staff will be formed to look at the issue.
   Director of Operations Darryl Smith reported that the 509-J Support Services building has been having ongoing heating issues, due to a variety of different heating systems.
   It seems like the building needs an HVAC system, but Smith said, "I'd like to have engineering work done to see what our problem is before we start throwing money at it."
   He was given permission to spend $5,325 to have an engineer do a study on ways to solve the problem.
   Under personnel, the board approved the early-retirement resignation of MHS language teacher Lisbet Hornung (effective at the end of the year), and the hiring of Yancy Wells to teach social studies at Jefferson County Middle School.
   The next meeting will be an Impact Aid hearing at 6 p.m., and regular meeting at 7 p.m., both at the Warm Springs Elementary library.