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Scappoose School District, teachers reach agreement

After 10 months of talks, Scappoose teachers and administrators reach terms on cost-neutral labor plan

Scappoose School District administrators and the teachers union ratified a two-year labor agreement on April 9, which is likely to result in increased instruction days for students at the loss of a handful of teacher positions.

Eric Carmen, a Spanish teacher in Scappoose High School and president of the Scappoose Association of Classroom Teachers, said the labor agreement is a compromise.

'In the kind of economic climate we're dealing with right now, we're not going to come to an agreement that's ideal for the teachers,' he said.

State school funding is expected to remain relatively flat for the 2012-13 school year, though a slight uptick in the neighborhood of a .5 to 1 percent increase in local property tax revenue is projected, said Mary Crum, the district's business manager. The slight bump in new revenue is expected to cover increases in annual roll-up costs, such as increases in maintenance expenses, insurance and utilities.

The district has an annual general fund budget of roughly $17 million, of which nearly 85 percent is composed of personnel expense.

Flat projected revenues left little room for union negotiators, Carmen said, and it became clear each success would come at a cost, resulting in what is called a cost-neutral contract for the teachers.

'I think most of the teachers recognized, after working on it for 10 months, for better or worse, this is what the district is able to do at this time,' he said.

Union negotiators secured a cost of living increase, called "steps," though not at the rate specified in the current contract. In fact, the labor agreement is qualified through an addendum to the existing contract, and future negotiations will pick up from the terms of the contract and not the addendum. Carmen said the union did not want to memorialize a loss of benefits in the more formal contract.

The new agreement, effective through June 2013, allows for a half-step annual increase versus a full step. As an offset, however, the union gave up an equal portion of the district's contribution for insurance benefits, pulling from the $1,229 per month the district provides.

Similarly, increasing the count of school days from the current calendar is not without a downside. At present, the district uses a 180-day school calendar, a cut of 10 days via the district's furlough program from the 190 specified in the teachers' labor contract. The new contract, which is slated to go into effect June 30, specifies 187 days.

One of the likely casualties of the restored school days is an anticipated loss of 4.5 teacher positions, a prospect Carmen said is not favorable.

'We encourage them to take other measures instead of cutting teachers,' he said, recognizing that the loss of teachers would have a significant effect on the district, including increasing classroom sizes.

Crum said there was no definitive agreement on the teacher losses, pointing out that the district's first budget meeting kicks off this week, April 18.

'We're far from having an adopted budget,' she said.

School administrators initially wanted the union to accept a freeze on the step payments for a two-year period and pay back such payments made during months the teachers had worked without a contract.

Union members contended the freeze would result in permanent salary losses and balked at a tentative settlement agreement last January.