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Teachers union, district ready for round two of mediation

As it prepares to head into a second contract negotiation mediation with the Scappoose School District, the teachers' union is adamant members' salaries need to remain in step with the increasing cost of living.

Eric Carman, the president of the Scappoose Association of Classroom Teachers (SACT), said members recognize the budgeting difficulties facing the district's Board of Directors, but can't accept the district's latest proposal.

Typically, teachers are given yearly pay bumps, or steps, to help defray the increasing cost of living. The district wants the teachers to accept a two-year 'step freeze,' which would mean no cost-of-living adjustments for two years. When the freeze is over, the step increases would return, but two years behind, Carman said.

Teachers say the delay would cause a domino effect that would adversely affect retirement benefits down the road.

As an alternative, the teachers have offered to forego the step increases for two years, provided they are given the three-year increase at the end.

The two sides are scheduled to meet March 1 with a mediator. The board requested private mediation after public negotiations broke down in December.

'We're still working for a settlement,' Carman said. 'Not only a contract, but one we can live with.'

The district is looking for ways to save money with the best interests of students in mind, said Superintendent John Miner. Ten days have been cut each of the last two school years to reach tight budget goals.

'The district is focused on the kids and trying to live within its means,' Miner said. 'We value our teachers, and we want to get a settlement that is financially possible for the district.'

For now, the teachers are operating on last year's contract terms, which included the step increase.

If an agreement isn't reached, the board has the option to implement terms of its latest offer. That would mean freezing the increases, and if the contract is applied retroactively, would force the teachers to pay the district back the increases they've already received.

That would be a difficult pill to swallow, with many teachers already living paycheck to paycheck, Carman said. Eliminating cost-of-living adjustments might make qualified teachers think twice about working for the Scappoose School District, he said.

Carmen said SACT demands have come down considerably since negotiations for a new contract began last June.

'We've been creative in our proposals and we've moved a lot,' Carman said. 'As far as financial position, they haven't changed at all.'

After a Jan. 23 mediation session, a survey was sent to union members asking for input on next steps should negotiations flounder.

There are many options membership would have to consider, including a possible strike, Carman said. The results of the survey haven't been released.

'We're not satisfied, but we appreciate the district is in a tough spot,' Carman said.

History of labor strife

Scappoose has a long history of labor strife between its school board and its teachers. In 1974, Scappoose teachers were the first in Oregon to strike legally under the newly minted Public Relations Collective Bargaining Law. Requiring high school teachers to supervise football crowds and chaperone dances, as well as limits on maternity leave, were among the chief issues.