Gresham-Barlow school board approves contract with teachers
Deal cuts five days from 2012-13 school year; no layoffs or program cuts
The Gresham-Barlow School District and its teachers have a new three-year contract, which cuts five days from the 2012-13 school year but means no layoffs or program cuts next year.
A yearlong, sometimes bitter dispute marked by a brief strike ended with a whimper Thursday night, May 3, at a sparsely attended district board meeting.
After a brief discussion, board members unanimously approved the deal, which was ratified earlier this week by more than 98 percent of the Gresham-Barlow Education Association's members as well as the East County Bargaining Council, the union's official bargaining representative.
The two sides reached a tentative contract agreement just hours after teachers went on strike April 25. It took a year of negotiations to yield a new contract, the last one having expired June 30, 2011.
'The agreement provides the district's teachers and leaders with key changes that support our work to provide a quality education to our students,' Superintendent Jim Schlachter said in a press statement.
The new contract cuts five school days from 2012-13, saving the district an estimated $1.25 million. A similar move in 2011-12 saved the same amount of money.
The contract is retroactive to July 1, 2011, and extends through June 30, 2014.
Highlights include the following:
• Teachers agree to forgo cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, in the first two years of the contract. There will be no COLAs in the third year unless the state provides funding for K-12 education that is equal to or exceeds $6.4 billion.
• The new contract includes a step increase in pay for eligible teachers during the 2011-12 school year. Teachers also will receive step increases over the next two years, although each step increase will not go into effect until June 30 of each contract year. This arrangement allows the district to more closely align its budget planning with the state's funding cycles, according to Athena Vadnais, district spokeswoman.
• The district will slightly increase its monthly contribution to teachers' health insurance in 2012-13 to match that of other employee groups. The insurance cap will increase from $1,010 to $1,110 per month in 2013-14.
During the meeting, Schlachter also highlighted contract changes that will allow the district to continue to move its high schools to a uniform seven-period schedule, in contrast to the current block schedule, which offers different classes on alternating days.
Meanwhile, contract language makes it possible for the district to align its calendar at all levels so that elementary, middle school and high school students will have similar schedules.
Union members also will participate in a board-initiated 'Student Discipline and Safety Study' to address concerns over discipline and classroom safety issues.
Board members expressed relief that a deal had been reached.
'We all win, even though it was a tough way of getting there,' said Board Member Kathy Ruthruff.
'While school districts across Oregon are laying off teachers and cutting programs, parents and students in the Gresham-Barlow School District will have a reprieve from those painful reductions,' Schlachter added in his statement. 'This agreement means the district will be able to stay within its budget and maintain its well-rounded educational and co-curricular program next school year.'
At the meeting, Schlachter and board members noted they hope the passion and energy the union and its supporters brought to the negotiations process is channeled into calling on politicians in Salem to better fund schools in the future. Schools funding has steadily decreased over the past decade, forcing districts across the state to lay off employees and cut programs, they added.
On that note, Board Vice Chairman Matt O'Connell said his email box had been 'blowing up' over the past few weeks with messages from folks concerned about the negotiations.
'I just really hope the citizenry can take the energy in their emails and send them to our legislators,' he said.