Mediation ahead – SFSD lays out financial case for union concessions

February 2023 Posted in School

By Stephen Floyd

The Silver Falls School District (SFSD) says it would face financial hardship if it accepted terms proposed by the Silver Falls Education Association (SFEA) as the two head to mediation Feb. 1.

On Jan. 24, the district issued a statement addressed to “Silver Falls Families” saying the union’s requests for higher teacher pay and limits on class sizes “would fully deplete the district’s monetary reserves and create a need for program cuts and layoffs.”

The district said it is committed to making sure teachers are well-compensated and that they want to stay with SFSD, addind these goals must be weighed against commitments to non-union employees, the costs of building maintenance and the long-term fiscal health of the district. Despite a significant gap between the two parties on these issues, the district said it is still optimistic mediation will result in a solution.

“We look forward to continuing to work with SFEA leadership team members throughout the mediation process,” read the statement, “and we’re confident that a mutually acceptable (collective bargaining agreement) can be achieved with the assistance of a third party mediator.”

A representative of SFEA could not be reached for comment prior to Our Town deadline. SFEA President Alison Stolfus has said of mediation the union “is looking forward to coming to a satisfactory resolution for our educators.”

A third-party solution

The two parties agreed to enter mediation Dec. 1, 2022, after eight months of conventional negotiations failed to result in a finalized contract. So far, tentative agreements have been reached on nine out of 18 disputed articles, with parties furthest apart on issues related to teacher compensation, class size and grievance procedures.

Negotiators are using the same mediator who helped the parties agree to a contract in January of 2020, just four days before teachers would have gone on strike. As current negotiations have continued, teachers have operated under the terms of the now-expired 2020 contract. If an agreement is reached teachers would receive back-pay to the start of the school year according to the terms of the approved contract.

Unlike prior bargaining sessions, the mediation sessions will not be open to the public. If a finalized contract is accepted by district representatives, it will go before the SFSD Board for approval in an open business meeting.

If current mediation does not result in an agreement by Feb. 15, parties may declare an impasse and present a final offer by Feb. 22. They will then have 30 days to consider the offer and accept the terms, or the union may strike March 24, provided it gives 10 days notice.

$850,000 difference in proposals

On the issue of teacher salaries, the Jan. 24 statement said the difference between the district’s proposal and the union’s terms are about $850,000 for the current fiscal year. The current budgeted total is $37.5 million for all employee salaries and benefits.

The district has offered a 3 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA), a $1,000 retention bonus and an additional $50 per month in insurance contributions, which would increase personnel costs this year by around $1.1 million. The district said SFEA’s counter-proposal of 7 percent COLA, plus the retention bonus and insurance contributions, would lead to an increase of around $1.95 million.

The district said this is comparable to the ending fund balance for the 2021-2022 school year of $2 million, compared to $2.76 million for 2020-2021 and $2.2 million for 2019-2020. 

The district said its own policies require an ending fund balance of 10 percent, which would be around $4.8 million for this year. That was achieved consistently in the years prior to 2019. Accepting SFEA’s proposal would make it more difficult to achieve the district’s safety net target.

“The district simply cannot meet SFEA’s requested proposal and remain financially viable,” said the Jan. 24 statement.

Smaller classes, higher costs

The district also said SFEA’s proposal for a specific limit on class sizes, and a slight pay bump for teachers obligated to work in overcrowded classrooms, would cost $1.16 million per year between hiring additional teachers and paying teacher stipends.

SFEA has proposed firm limits on class sizes and a clearly-defined process to resolve class size challenges, with a 1.5 percent pay increase for teachers whose classes cannot be reduced following the guidelines. In December, union representatives said about three teachers within the district would qualify for that pay bump under the terms they have proposed, and the pay increase was meant to be a nominal financial incentive for administrators to take the guidelines seriously.

SFSD prefers a system where school administrators and union representatives resolve class size problems on a case-by-case basis, arguing some schools and some classes are inherently larger than others and a general set of rules will not fit every situation.

On Jan. 24 the district said, under the union’s proposed terms, it would need to hire around 10 new teachers, and may also have to adjust school rooms and hire additional teaching aides. The district said students may also feel the adverse impacts of being reassigned to new schools in order to solve class-size challenges.

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