District, teachers hope to have students back in class by Tuesday

Reynolds School District officials said they intended to reopen school on Tuesday as the School Board and union representatives worked into the evening Friday to settle their long-running contract dispute.

Both sides in the Reynolds School District teachers contract dispute were 'making great progress' in negotiations as of early Friday evening, May 25, according to Andrea Watson, district spokeswoman.

As of the Outlook's print deadline Friday night, talks were continuing, but both sides said they expected to stay until a tentative agreement was reached to put an end to the week-long strike.

However, talks appeared as if they would go deep into the night.

Watson struck a highly optimistic tone about 7 p.m., saying, 'We are making really incredible progress. ... Our team feels this is totaling working.'

Bruce Scherer, communications consultant with the Oregon Education Association, also said the talks were becoming more fruitful.

"We are making significant progress on issues at a pace that we have not seen before," he said, adding later, "Both parties are committed to staying at the table."

And School Board Chairwoman Theresa Delaney Davis also indicated throughout the day Friday that she was confident a deal would be reached.

Meanwhile, teachers gathered at Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Wood Village Friday afternoon to celebrate what they expected to be good news.

The Outlook posted an optimistic story online at about 8 p.m., declaring the union and district were near a tentative agreement and that the strike was nearly over, but the Reynolds Education Association reponded with a less optimisitc statement on Facebook.

"The Gresham Outlook has jumped the gun, extrapolating statements by REA and the school district to prematurely announce a tentative agreement is near," the statement reads. "There are substantial issues yet to work out. Both parties are still committed to staying."

Making headway

A breakthrough in the dispute came on Thursday, when representatives of the district and the REA met informally all afternoon to clarify issues that still separated the two parties.

That meeting then led to a mediated session in an undisclosed location starting at noon Friday.

In a statement that Watson distributed late Thursday, the district and the union struck a conciliatory tone after a week of combativeness.

'Informal talks were held all afternoon,' the statement read. 'The purpose of today's meeting was for both parties to gain clarity and understanding on the unresolved language issues.

'The goal of the Reynolds Education Association and the Reynolds School District is to reach a settlement in mediation on Friday, May 25, so we can welcome students back to school on Tuesday, May 29.'

Both Watson and union President Joyce Rosenau were listed as contacts on the statement. Its message was the first optimistic sign following contract negotiations that concluded without an agreement May 23. In a brief interview Friday before the session, Rosenau confirmed that negotiations were moving forward in a promising direction.

Teachers went on strike May 21 following a yearlong contract dispute, and school was canceled for the entire week.

Details of the final contract will not be available until after it is ratified by the two sides. Earlier in the week, however, Superintendent Joyce Henstrand had outlined what she said at the time was the district's final financial offer. She said the package was worth $5.09 million in additional costs over a three-year period. The offer would leave the district with a projected ending fund balance of just under $1 million in 2013-14, she said.

The $5.09 million offer included a step pay increase in 2011-12; a delayed step increase in 2012-13, with a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for teachers at the top of the pay scale; and a pay freeze in 2013-14. However, teachers would get a 2 percent cost-of-living increase in 2012-13 should the district post an ending fund balance that exceeds $13 million. The deal also included incremental increases in health insurance contributions through 2014, Henstrand said.

Teachers were out in force Friday, picketing at various locations. In one incident, Fairview police arrested LeAnn K. Traylor, 53, of Salem, an Oregon Education Association staff member, for interfering with a peace officer.

Police were assisting with traffic control at the district bus yard at 20211 N.E. Glisan St. when Traylor allegedly tried to push past an officer who had told her to stop while buses were leaving the yard. Interfering with a peace officer is a Class A misdemeanor. Traylor was issued a citation.

In a statement issued by the OEA Friday afternoon, Traylor was said to believe 'she was handled roughly by Fairview police. All participants in the picket line had been following the rules established with the Fairview police.

When contacted by The Outlook for a response to the union statement, Fairview Police Spokesman Detective Brad Robertson declined to comment.

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