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Central School District classified staff settles, another side eyes deal

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Central School District administrators have cleared one hurdle in union negotiations, but one more still looms.

September 10, 2013

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Central School District administrators have cleared one hurdle in union negotiations, but one more still looms.

Classified staff within the district voted Sept. 3 to ratify a tentative agreement, giving the group a two-year contract with the district just after the new school year began.

However, the agreement must still be approved by the school board, which is likely to happen given its level of involvement in the process, during its Sept. 16 meeting, superintendent Buzz Brazeau said.

The Aug. 21 mediation session between staff and the district, the first in decades, was a success with the two parties reaching a tentative agreement.

"Of those present at the ratification meeting, it was a unanimous vote. That was good," Denise Chase, president of Chapter 124 of the Oregon School Employees Association, said. "We're pleased and relieved. We have a really good relationship with the district, so it's not like it was a big, contentious battle."

Coming to an agreement with classified staff was a big step toward getting the school year off on the right foot, but Central and its teachers still have not reached agreement on a new contract.

Denise Chase

Denise Chase

One issue, agreed by both sides, was the late start coming to the negotiating table because of the logjam with passing a budget in the legislature.

It's not rare for union negotiations in the district to coincide with pushing the budget through the general assembly, but what is rare is the time frame the district has had to work with.

"This year was a perfect storm because of the budget cycle, the negotiations and Obamacare," Brazeau said. "We've been sitting in the perfect storm and it seems like the ship is still afloat."

Bargaining teams for teachers and the district met Sept. 4 in what was the third meeting between the two sides.

High hopes on both sides preceded the meeting but little, if any, progress was made on a large scale, Ben Gorman, Central High School English teacher and president of the local Oregon Education Association chapter, said.

"It was pretty disappointing ultimately. We did make some progress but the end of the meeting was pretty frustrating," he said. "We have heard their interest in increasing student contact time but in fact we're the only side that keeps offering to work more."

New state grading requirements and a district-imposed student performance program are requiring more time with students.

Ben Gorman

Ben Gorman

Gorman said he and other teachers are more than willing to adhere to these new mandates, but they need to be compensated fairly for the extra workload -- something the district is hesitant to agree to, he said.

The next scheduled meeting between teachers and the district is Sept. 24, a week after the next school board meeting.

However, the board is meeting for a work session Sept. 30 and, if necessary, it could accommodate a meeting on a contract with teachers, Brazeau said.

With the staff contract all but settled, the district should be able to fully focus on the teachers and bring both sides to an agreement, Gorman said.

"We went into this last meeting thinking we could finish this up. Instead, we left feeling like they were dragging their feet," he said. "We want them to come to the next meeting, acknowledge teacher sacrifices and find a settlement."

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