MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Tense might best describe the mood in the Central School District regarding contract negotiations between faculty members and administrators.
During the past few months, teachers belonging to the Central Education Association have become increasingly vocal about what they argue is a lack of respect being shown in the bargaining process.
Some have also expressed anger over an Oct. 28 e-mail from Superintendent Joseph Hunter to all employees that describes the district's request for a reduction of days and other negotiation topics.
"That's a violation of ground rules for bargaining," Central High teacher Tom Nordtvedt told Central School Board members during a packed Nov. 1 board meeting. "The district is supposed to negotiate with our bargaining team, not involve" other members.
The two sides were to meet again Wednesday, Nov. 10, for the first time since Sept. 21. It will mark the 10th meeting since March.
It can't come soon enough for faculty members, many of whom have been donning buttons with slogans such as "No Contract, Still Teaching."
Teachers have aired several grievances about the negotiations process to date at recent Central School Board meetings.
For example, after the September session, the district requested the union modify its contract proposal for 2010-12 before coming back to the table instead of offering a counter proposal.
"They said they would return, but only if the CEA put out a proposal with more concessions on our part," CEA member Carol Phillips said. "I've begun to question the district's commitment to the bargaining process."
Even the session scheduled to happen today is being scrutinized, with teachers questioning a five-hour time limit set by the district. Hunter said the issue would be addressed during the session.
Faculty salary and benefits budgeted in Central's 2010-11 general fund total nearly $10 million. Contract items still being hammered out by the sides include:
* Salary -- The district and union are mulling a two-year freeze on cost of living increases, which leaves in place "step" increases. The union is seeking a yearly increase for employees with longevity, while the district is offering a one-time 3 percent increase to employees when they move to this level and cost of living thereafter.
* Days -- The district is requesting a reduction of five days from the school calendar year and the ability to open contract language in the event of state funding cuts. Hunter said the last CEA proposal didn't include a day reduction, though in October union spokeswoman Linda Tonagel told board members her team offered to give up days when needed.
* There has also been disagreements over education planning time -- professional learning communities -- and insurance, with the district offering a 12 percent increase and the union seeking 14 percent.
Many teachers have called the e-mail inappropriate, viewing it as sidestepping the bargaining team.
"It's not something I would have advised," board member Paul Evans said to faculty last week.
Hunter's e-mail appeared to be his response to public statements about the bargaining process. Asked by the Itemizer-Observer
why it was sent, he said contract negotiations have been open and "that anyone could attend and hear what is said."
"This means that the content of those open negotiation sessions is open public information," he continued. "There was no violation of law."
He also said with an announced state deficit of $3.2 billion during the next two years, contract talks will be "difficult" in any district.
Tonagel declined to comment on some of the e-mail's specifics or if a complaint with the Oregon Employment Board of Relations is possible.
"A complaint regarding bargaining requires a preponderance of events," she said. "We have had a scope of issues in bargaining that cause us concern ... Dr. Hunter's latest e-mail tactic is one of multiple matters that we are evaluating."
Whether Hunter's communication was an unfair labor practice hinges on its intent, said Vickie Cowan, an OERB board member.
But "I wouldn't even make a guess about it now," she said. "Somebody would have to file a complaint."