Money matters: Silver Falls teacher contract negotiations continue

December 2019 Posted in Other

By Brenna Wiegand

Silver Falls School District and Silver Falls Education Association have hammered out many of the union’s requests for verbiage and policy changes to their 2019-2020 contract. Since the parties have yet to reach a settlement, teachers are working under the two-year 2017-2019 contract.

On Nov. 20 they addressed the salary schedule in earnest, and though Silver Falls Education Association President Michelle Stadeli didn’t think much was accomplished, the middle school teacher was glad it provided union members a chance to ask questions directly of the district team.

The district’s compensation proposal began with the elimination of the first two steps of the “step-and-column” schedule determining teacher salaries.

“Eliminating the first two steps of the salary schedule will benefit some teachers this year and help address concerns that we are not as competitive with some other districts for new teachers,” Silver Falls School District Assistant Superintendent Dan Busch said. “Anytime you make changes to a salary schedule, you will have some who will see a greater benefit. That is unavoidable when making adjustments to a complex salary schedule.”

“We agree that eliminating those first two steps would make us more competitive when it comes to attracting new teachers, but there needs to be increases for all the folks in the middle range,” Stadeli said. “As they have it, a new employee will come in at the same salary as a third-year educator. We are also concerned it could create further equity for our teachers.”

The union’s last proposal called for a 3 percent cost of living (COLA) increase plus a one-time 5 percent fair market adjustment. The district came back with the step elimination plan, the addition of a few steps to the lower end of certain columns and an average 3.5 percent (COLA) increase across the pay scale.

“In essence they’re offering a 3.5 percent raise whereas our proposal would give everybody about an 8 percent increase,” Stadeli said. “We think we can justifiably ask for more based on what we’re seeing in other districts.

“You can drive 15 miles and get paid significantly more,” Stadeli said. “We also have teachers driving from Salem to Silverton because they love this community though it’s a financial imposition.”

For the next two years, the district proposes a 2.5 percent COLA increase in answer to SFEA’s request to have it based on the appropriate Consumer Price Index with a minimum 2.5 percent and a maximum 5 percent.

“There’s been a lot of talk about what people could make if they worked in another district,” said Kevin Palmer, district negotiating team member and Butte Creek School principal. “We would like them to bring something back and let’s do some bargaining. There really hasn’t been much bargaining in this area.”

The district embraced SFEA’s proposal to thank long-term employees for their commitment to the district with ‘longevity stipends’ at the 20, 25, 30, 35 and
40-year mark.

“This has been a feature in the classified contract, so it makes sense to include this for our licensed staff,” Palmer said.

The parties are negotiating increases to the district’s health insurance contribution.

The union’s recent grievance proceedings stemming from interference with a teacher’s grading system has boosted membership’s involvement, with at least 100 union and community members at Sept. 24’s meeting. Though 96 percent of the district’s 220 licensed employees are union members, in years past only a handful have attended bargaining sessions, these mostly site representatives.

The union and district have agreed on a process for when a grade is contested rather than leave the decision to an administrator.

“We fought really hard for this,” Stadeli said. “We’re the professionals in the classroom every day; we know what the kids are capable of and what they’re actually producing.”

The union also seeks to strengthen contract language around the district’s involuntary transfer policy; this remains under discussion.

“We feel very strongly about this,”
Stadeli said. “There are occasions when an involuntary transfer policy is necessary, but we’ve also seen it used as a retaliatory measure and that’s not what it’s meant
to be.”

One of the things Stadeli and her associates are most excited about is a revised inclement weather policy, agreed upon by both sides.

“It recognizes that teachers are putting in hours beyond their regular contract hours,” she said.

In 32 years with the district, Palmer has never seen a school year commence without a contract in place.

“A lot of that is because they walked away from the table on Aug. 5, when we expressly asked them to stay to discuss compensation, and didn’t come back until Sept. 24,” Palmer said. “That’s hard for me to watch because I think of it as lost time, and maybe we’d have a contract
by now.”

“I think our teachers have felt undervalued for a long time and though we have made a lot of progress we can’t fully heal until we really get a fair contract,” Stadeli said.

“While the steps gained during this bargaining session were small, I still believe we are moving in the right direction,” Busch said.

The ball is now in SFEA’s court. Their plan is to have a counterproposal ready for a meeting early in December.

Both parties are well past the date when they can request mediation; neither has done so.

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