By Stephen Floyd
The Silver Falls School District (SFSD) is headed to a third mediation session with its teachers’ union as collective bargaining continues nearly a year after it began.
Parties are scheduled to enter mediation again March 9 after sessions Feb. 7 and 13 did not result in finalized contract proposals.
Both sides are allowed to declare an impasse as of Feb. 22, which would put an end to mediation in favor of a final offer, but said they are ready to continue toward a negotiated solution.
“We are optimistic that our language and compensation proposals are moving in the right direction,” said the Silver Falls Education Association (SFEA) on Facebook Feb. 20.
SFSD Assistant Superintendent Dan Busch told Our Town Feb. 17 he does not anticipate an impasse being declared. He said the district did not have further comment on mediation at that time. A Feb. 21 meeting of the School Board to offer public updates on negotiations was canceled.
Collective bargaining began in April 2022. Teachers are currently working under the previous expired contract. Roughly half of open articles had tentative agreements when mediation began. Parties were far apart on issues related to compensation, grievance procedures and class size.
After the Feb. 13 session, SFEA issued a public statement on Facebook, as well as before the School Board during its regular meeting that night, expressing frustration at the continued lack of progress.
“Today our bargaining team was told that our district administration refuses to respond to our class size proposal,” said SFEA. “They have misrepresented what we have asked to our community. We have not proposed class caps, rather we have proposed class targets. This is unacceptable.”
SFEA said they began the Feb. 13 session focused on five contract articles related to grievances, teacher discipline, vacancies and transfers, class size, and work year/work day. They said the district’s only counterproposal was at the end of the session related to a sixth article on teacher compensation.
Negotiations were tense when mediation began due to a Jan. 24 broadcast by SFSD on ParentSquare. It detailed its bargaining position directly to the community. SFEA described the broadcast as misleading. It responded with infographics on Facebook describing their view of the numbers.
On Feb. 10, SFEA posted a chart highlighting how a majority of teachers under last year’s salary steps would qualify for benefits from Silverton Area Community Aid (SACA), if the teacher was the sole income earner for a household of three.
“There are only a few places on our salary schedule where a licensed staff member would not qualify for support,” said SFEA. “Several of our local teachers qualify for services and count on [SACA’s] help to put food on the table for their families. We are fighting for fair and regionally competitive pay.”
On the 2021-22 Licensed Salary Schedule posted on Facebook salaries range from a Step 2 teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree at an annual $45,355 to a Step 18 holder of a PhD at $81,209.
The union has requested a 7 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the current school year, plus a 5 percent COLA for both of the two following school years. As of the start of mediation, the district countered with a 3 percent COLA this year and 2.5 percent COLA the next two years.
Both parties have agreed to a proposal by the district for a $1,000 retention bonus, and an additional $50 per month in health insurance contributions.
According to the district’s Jan. 24 infographic, the union’s plan would cost the district around $1.1 million extra the first year, $1.4 million the next year and $2 million the third year. SFEA has said they are “willing to work and negotiate with the district” on this issue.