Contract accord: SFSD negotiations get wide-ranging attention

February 2020 Posted in News, School

By Paula Mabry

After a final mediation session that lasted well into the evening Jan. 27, Silver Falls Education Association and the Silver Falls School District came to an accord on wages and contract language.

Now the proposed settlement must go to the school board and SFEA membership for ratification. The school board meets Feb. 3. As of Our Town press time details of the agreement had not been released and no date had been announced for the union vote.

The months-long negotiation process, which started last Spring, had come to a sticking point over expanded workplace protections for teachers. Beyond wages, union focus included teacher evaluations and involuntary transfers. Through social media and board testimony, union members and retirees shared stories reflecting administrative “bullying,” retribution, and inadequate teacher-administrator interaction in the evaluation process.

After months of small steps, the week prior to the final negotiation session had leaps in attention. 

On Jan. 21 more than 200 of the approximately 225 SFEA members signed pledge-to-strike forms, authorizing the union to notify the district of pending strike action if an impasse was declared following the Jan. 27 bargaining session.

The Statesman Journal out of Salem carried the story the next day. Even further reaching, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democrats’ presidential nomination, tweeted his support for the teachers:

“I stand with the educators of @SilverFallsEA in Oregon in their fight for better treatment and just wages. Educators in the richest country on Earth should not have to struggle to get by,” he said.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley chimed in with a Jan. 22 letter which the SFEA shared: “Please know that I stand with all of the educators in the Silver Falls School District in Silverton, Oregon who are fighting for dignified treatment at work and wages comparable with their peers… The immense value you provide to your community deserves to be recognized,” he wrote.

SFEA negotiators had asked that a minimum 15-minute formal evaluation annually be written into the contract. They sought to “align with current Oregon law, requiring collaboration between the district, teachers, administrators and collective bargaining representatives to create a sound system of evaluation for teachers.”

“Just as teachers spend countless hours gathering evidence of student learning before grading their performance, we expect administrators to spend quality time in classrooms so they can really get a feel for what is happening in their school,” Michelle Stadeli, middle school teacher and president of SFEA said.

The union had also requested that the district limit involuntary transfers of teachers to no more than once every ten years.

Additional support came from the state teachers association.

“The Oregon Education Association stands behind the brave members of Silver Falls EA, who, despite a tough negotiation process, are resolute in their commitment to quality teaching standards and better working conditions,” John Larson, OEA President, said.

In announcing the tentative agreement for 2019-2022, the district negotiating team, headed by assistant superintendent Dan Busch, issued a statement: “After many months of diligent work, the parties found common ground on all remaining articles. Everyone involved is especially pleased that this agreement provides the foundation for a stronger, healthier, and more collaborative relationship.”

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