Both sides meet April 13 to continue talks
The Gresham-Barlow School District Board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, April 16, to discuss how the district will respond to a vote by teachers to walk off their jobs April 25.
The public meeting will take place at Gresham City Council chambers, 1331 N.W. Eastman Parkway.
Among the options the board will discuss is whether to keep schools open by staffing them with substitute teachers during a strike, according to Athena Vadnais, district spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, representatives of both sides were set to meet at East Hill Church in Gresham on Friday, April 13, to continue contract negotiations.
Teachers in the district voted to strike during an April 11 meeting at Barlow High School, according to Regina Norris, co-president-elect of the Gresham-Barlow Education Association.
More than 500 of the union's 605 members stood up in favor of a strike, she said. The vote came in response to the district school board's decision in March to implement a contract on its teachers.
Nearly a year of negotiations has failed to yield a new contract, the last one having expired June 30, 2011.
'It's tough but it's what the members want and as an elected leader I have to support my members,' Norris said, adding she was among those who voted to strike. 'I think what the district has implemented is not good for our working conditions and, as a result, is not good for our students.'
A strike would affect 12,000 students.
A state mediator could also call for a meeting as well, Norris said. As of April 13, however, no such meeting had been called, Vadnais said.
'The Gresham-Barlow School District is disappointed the teachers association decided to take this action,' the district said in an April 11 statement. 'The school district does not believe the issues separating the two sides warrant a strike that would disrupt the school year for students and families.
'Our hope is that we will settle contract differences at the bargaining table, not by the associations' unnecessary decision to disrupt our schools,' the statement added. 'One of the reasons we are at a stalemate is financial. Over the last five years, during an economic downturn, Gresham-Barlow teachers have received pay raises. The state continues to inadequately fund schools in Oregon and the district is unable to sustain substantial salary increases. The district is focused on keeping as many teachers in the classroom as possible while maintaining the district's financial solvency.'
Both Norris and Schlachter said if there is room to compromise, it's over financial issues. On that note, the district has argued the union's contract proposal is financially unrealistic, and could cost up to approximately $4 million, forcing the district to possibly cut as many as 43 teachers next year, up to 16 school days or some combination of the two.
The union has contended the district is greatly exaggerating the fiscal impact of its proposals and that it is willing to compromise, having already offered to give up five paid days this year.
The district sent out letters to school parents this week to inform them of the strike vote, Vadnais said. She and Schlachter added the district is still hoping for a settlement and noted its board must formally decide whether or not to keep schools open in the event teachers walk out or hire substitutes in their place.
Norris said substitute teachers do not belong to a union, but on its Web site, the association urges teachers to tell substitutes to honor picket lines and 'remind them of the potential disadvantage to one's career of crossing a picket line.'
According to union leaders, teachers are most concerned about the district's layoff, or reduction-in-force policies; a perceived lack of adequate instructional preparation time; proposed scheduling changes, particularly the move to change all high school schedules to a seven-period day; the possible increased use of counselors as substitute teachers, and the fact teachers will not receive step increases in pay next year.
Both Schlachter and Norris said their side is open to compromise.
'We'll be happy to put in a significant number of hours a day till we get a settlement,' Schlachter said.
'I think that a compromise in all areas is possible, but it takes both sides to compromise,' Norris said.