Push back – Union challenges SFSD infographic on labor negotiations

February 2023 Posted in School

By Stephen Floyd

Tensions in the stalled labor negotiations between the Silver Falls School District (SFSD) and the teachers’ union have ramped up. 

The Silver Falls Education Association (SFEA) said an infographic broadcast Jan. 24 via ParentSquare, and later on the district’s website, was “an escalation” as the two parties entered mediation.

“We feel the extensive document sent out to our community from the district office via personal email was misleading and offensive,” SFEA posted on Facebook Jan. 26.

A first mediation session was scheduled for Feb. 1, but was set over to Feb. 7 due to a scheduling conflict. The session resulted in little progress, said SFEA representatives, and a follow up was scheduled for Feb. 13.

According to ParentSquare’s website, the app is typically used for emergency notifications, announcements about school services, and similar community-interest broadcasts. The Jan. 24 infographic marked the first time SFSD used ParentSquare to share updates on current labor negotiations and the district’s bargaining position. The SFEA has accused the district of attempting to gain an outsized influence.

SFSD spokesperson Derek McElfresh told Our Town Feb. 2 the information was broadcast in response to requests by employees and community members for “a fact-based, easy to understand reason why the district and SFEA had not yet reached a final contract.”

“It’s unfortunate that a small number of community members are upset by the communication, but the district stands by the information as being entirely based on facts, and on existing information already available to the public,” said McElfresh. 

“We’re aware of some individuals stating that the financial numbers listed in the communication have in some way been ‘doctored’, implying we are being untruthful with the data. We invite any such criticism to specify the nature of the manipulation they imply. To our knowledge, all calculations and figures in the release are 100% accurate, except where noted as projections or estimates. In the case of the latter, great care was taken to be as accurate as possible based on current knowledge.”

The infographic said accepting the union’s positions on class size and teacher salaries would place the district in financial jeopardy. 

SFEA has rebutted the district’s numbers in a series of Facebook posts that began Feb. 3, sharing their reasons for why the district has room in the budget to meet their requests.

The district said it would need to hire ten teachers and pay out 41 stipends under SFEA’s proposed class size guidelines. SFEA said while new teachers would be helpful, options include reassigning students, more paraeducator time and developing split classrooms, while working with administrators to tailor solutions.

If these options are not viable, SFEA requests a 1.5 percent pay bump for teachers with excessively-large classes, and estimated around three teachers would qualify under the proposed guidelines. 

McElfresh said SFSD arrived at the figure of 41 stipends based on the number of schools in the district that would not have room for additional classes.

On teacher salaries, the district said SFEA’s request for a 7 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA), as opposed to the district’s proposed 3 percent, would require $850,000 more for this year’s budget. SFEA said it is still willing to work with the district on this issue and noted it has come down from an original proposal of 9 percent while the district has come up from 2 percent.

On using state and federal grants for teacher salaries, the district said such monies must be project-specific. SFEA argued that the funds, specifically Oregon’s Student Investment Account (SIA) grants, are meant to address student success barriers like class size and can be used in this context.

If a contract is not finalized within 15 days of the start of mediation, parties may declare an impasse and present a final offer seven days later. They will then have 30 days to consider the offer and accept the terms, or the union may strike after giving ten days notice.

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