Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tad Larson's statement to the School Board 1-13-14

Good evening Madame Chair and members of the Board.  Thank you for your time and service dedicated to the School Board.  Thank you for the opportunity for public comment.  My name is Tad Larson and I’m here as a citizen and tax payer to support the teachers efforts to settle their contract. 

My family has a long history of supporting the education system in our community.  My great-great grandfather, Henry Hill, donated the land that this very building sits on.  My children represent the sixth generation of my family to go through our local schools.  We choose to live here because of the priority placed on the education system and the public services that make this such a great community to live in, work in and raise a family. 

Our community supported a bond when the economy was going down hill because we believe in the teachers.  We did this to provide proper facilities, retain our current staff and encourage new staff to teach here.

I’m here to encourage you to settle the teacher’s contract now and not wait for a mediator.  I understand the building administrators and District Office administrators were already given a raise.  That seems backwards since these two groups are actually closer to market value than our teachers and classified staff.

I also understand that the last offer from the District Office included a pay raise, which is long overdue.  This raise means very little if the teachers health insurance and out-of-pocket expenses increase at the same time.  I’ve been told by teachers that there is a priority on classroom size from the District Office.  While classroom size has been a legitimate issue for years, I find this hard to take seriously when the District Office just closed one of our elementary schools. 

I work for a public employer with a multi-million dollar budget.  We have to answer to the public as well and we can’t in good conscience give ourselves raises before contracts are settled.  I know personnel costs are the largest expense in most operations.  Personnel are also our biggest asset.  We need to keep the great teachers we have in our community.  The only way to ensure that they stay is to compensate them at market value.  Any of our teachers could work in a neighboring district less than 30 miles away and have a salary and benefits package that’s worth more than 10,000 dollars per year.

I don’t think that taking this to mediation will be good for our community when you have the ability to settle it now.  Mediation will only prolong the outcome and raise questions with the community about why it took so long.  If the mediator favors the teachers proposal it looks bad for the decision makers at the District Office.  If they mediator favors the District Office’s proposal it could lead to a strike.  A strike is a lose/lose for everyone.  If a strike does occur, most of the community will side with the teachers.  Parents and grandparents will be frustrated when you can’t keep the schools open during a strike.  The tax payers will lose trust with how their money is managed. 

In the past few years it’s been easy for public employers to not provide increases to salary and benefits based on their ability to prove lack of revenue.  That’s not the case lately.  Most public employers have been settling contracts with increases because revenue is up.  In years past, the teachers and the community understood why there weren’t increases when revenue was down.  Now the teachers and the community don’t understand why the revenue isn’t being reinvested in salary and benefits. 

Please settle contract now and don’t put the teachers and the community through the mediation process.  You are all professionals and we think that it’s reasonable to offer a contract that puts our teachers back in line with the market value. 

Steve Love, you represent my area of the community.  Please take this issue into the executive session with the rest of the Board and try to resolve this before it gets any worse. 

Thank you all for your time!

Rachel Duncan's letter to the School Board 1-13-14

Dear Members of the Board and Community,

I am sorry that I cannot attend this important meeting tonight, but I am at the limit of hours and energy that I can expend for the day.

This weekend I spent 12 hours organizing and playing in a band for a function that our Central H.S. choir was invited to perform at, I wrote 2 formal recommendation letters for senior scholarships, prepared a new syllabus for a new college-level course at the high school next semester, and got a whooping cough immunization. Today I used my lunch break to drive to West Salem and let my dog out so that I could stay after school and volunteer to play the piano for our upcoming all-grades musical, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I love doing all these activities to support our students.

But I have had an 11-hour day today, and it’s not unusual at all. It’s not unusual to use my weekends to chaperone retreats, support the theatre program and choir, grade 8 hours worth of papers at a time, and spend my own money in the process. In the first 4 weeks of school I logged 60 hours of extra work for the school, and about $200 worth of supplies that were necessary for my students and work here, like planners for 10th-12th graders. I’m now at $670 for the year, and we’re not through with semester 1.

And I am not alone in this. This is the pattern for the vast majority of teachers and even staff in this district. And we are exhausted from overwork and underpay, not to mention the ongoing disrespect of going 197 days without an acceptable contract.

I am sorry that I cannot be here in person tonight, wearing my red shirt with my colleagues.

I’m sorry I cannot be here in person to express the abominable way we have been promised year after year the very things we’re standing up for now:
that that basic costs of living increase would continue after freezes,
that our salaries would be commensurate with other districts our size,
that actual time with students would be increased again,
that acceptable class sizes would come to fruition.

I am sorry that you can’t seem to hear us when we keep reminding you that you assured us everything would return to normal as soon as  possible after we’ve already suffered cuts, furloughs, reductions in force and giant classes for 4 years. The budget outlook is the best it’s been in years, and yet we still wait.

I am sorry I cannot be here in person tonight to show you my fatigue over this issue.

But most of all, I’m sorry that I cannot be here in person to somehow further prove to you that we care about our contract.  I’m sorry that you don’t seem to believe our union reps, who we elected, and who speak for us in this regard. I’m sorry that you seem to need a mass showing and wasting of hours by hundreds of people before you will take us seriously. I know I don’t have time for that—I’m busy working harder than ever.

I’m sorry that you think we aren’t for real until you see our fatigued and appalled faces. I’m sorry that your dragging heels on the issue of this contract continues to take a toll on my health, and on the joy I usually feel in volunteering for our students.
But most of all, I’m sorry to our students, who need more days, more time, smaller classes, and above all, the surety of a qualified, stable, long-term district teaching staff who doesn’t move on or fail to apply in Central 13J in the first place over poor teaching salaries, benefits and treatment.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

CEA Response to District's Letter

The school board meeting scheduled for tomorrow (the 9th) has been postponed until next Monday, December 16th. As everyone checks the district’s website for news about school closure, we can’t help but notice that the district’s email, previously sent to all the staff, has been posted on the home page. One would think that sending such an email to all employees would be sufficient, but perhaps they wanted to cover their bases in case any teachers didn’t read their email. In case that’s a concern, we should also disseminate the CEA’s response as broadly as possible. Here is the letter the CEA sent out in response.

December 3, 2013
From the CEA Bargaining Team

All CEA Members,
We want to thank the District Bargaining Team and Board of Directors for encouraging you to contact us if you have any questions about the current negotiations situation.  It’s important that all interested parties have access to the most accurate information possible as we go forward.

A few clarifications: The district's letter stated that the district’s proposal offers something “equivalent to or slightly above the total compensation packages provided in comparable districts.” This simply isn't true. The proposal offers increases which are larger than those agreed upon by some of those districts which have negotiated contracts this last year, but the total compensation in our district would still be lower than almost all of those districts.
The letter also stated that, as resources increase, needs increase. It is our opinion that this is also inaccurate. The needs existed before the increased funding, and the legislature was trying to address those needs. The needs remain essentially the same. In the past, the district has survived financially by cutting the pay of teachers in order to meet those needs. State funding is finally on the upswing. Senate bills requiring more rigorous teacher evaluations, proficiency-based teaching practices, and the district's decision to adopt a new grading system and program demand more time, energy, and dedication from Central School District's educators.  No one is disputing the difficulty all teachers face in continuing to provide the best education for the students in this district.  However, growing enrollment numbers, class size increases, and the short school year are issues that still persist.  These are the issues that place immediate demands on teacher workloads and hinder student success.  These are the very issues at the forefront of negotiating a fair settlement. We believe the district should maintain focus on the needs the legislature was trying to address, like FTE, a full school year, and retaining the best teachers.

Lastly, we were very disheartened when the district announced that they could no longer make any movement and called for mediation. We are glad to hear about the district’s hope that both parties can come closer together during mediation so this situation can be resolved, and we interpret the district’s stated desire to do so as an assurance that their team will come into mediation with a willingness to make movement so this can be resolved quickly.

Again, our thanks to the district for directing you to us. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact a member of the CEA bargaining team. We're proud to serve our excellent teachers.

Your CEA Bargaining Team
Jane Swann at ACES 
Holly Boyles at TMS
Chrissy Eichelberger at IES
Krysia Bliss at MES
Benjamin Gorman at CHS

If people in the community would also be interested in the most accurate information about the state of negotiations, we encourage you to follow the district’s advice and contact the CEA at Also, please attend the board meeting rescheduled for the 16th.

Letter to Central Teachers from District Bargaining Team

December 2, 2013

Dear Central Teachers,

This letter is intended to provide an update on contract negotiations between the Central School District and the Central Education Association (CEA).  The District and CEA began bargaining on June 12, 2013, in an effort to reach an agreement to replace our contract that expired on June 30, 2013.  The parties met numerous times, for several hours each session, and have shared their respective perspectives and positions.

In approaching these negotiations, the Central School Board has instructed the District Bargaining Team to operate under the following principles:

·                  Improving student achievement and success is the overriding goal in everything the           District does, and is the primary motivating factor behind all decisions.

·                  Promises and obligations to staff members, specifically with regard to financial obligations, must be sustainable.  Balancing a budget with layoffs or school year reductions is not in the best interest of staff, students or the community.

·                  The District has quality teachers who deserve fair compensation and benefits for their       service to the community and its students.

·                  As economic conditions for the District improve, competing needs for limited resources increase.  Changes in salary and benefits will be balanced with other important needs that directly contribute toward improved student achievement such as curriculum, technology, safe facilities, professional development, and class size balancing.

With these principles in mind, the District has endeavored to reach a fair and sustainable contract settlement with the CEA.  While the parties have settled many of the issues that have been brought forward, a resolution on financial issues has remained elusive.  At the most recent negotiation session, the District made the following economic proposal to the CEA team:

                                                                       2013-14                                   2014-15

Salary/Cost of Living Adjust (COLA):                  3%                                        2.25%

Insurance:                                                  $1,215.28 per month               $1,215.28 per month

The District’s proposal includes a monthly contribution to a Health Reimbursement Account, up to 85% of the difference between the premium and the cap, for teachers who choose an insurance plan less than the District insurance benefit.

Under Oregon Public Employees Collective Bargaining Law, our 2012-2013 contract remains in effect until replaced by a new contract.  All step-eligible staff has received a step increase for 2013-14.

The District’s proposal is equivalent to or slightly above the total compensation packages provided in comparable districts (e.g. Dallas, Philomath, Lebanon, North Santiam, Woodburn, Silver Falls, North Wasco County and Albany).  Our proposal would provide economic increases for teachers, while at the same time allow funding for many other needed expenditures in the District in the current and future years.  The District team remains committed to a solution that represents a balanced approach; one that recognizes the needs of teachers while taking into account the needs of our students. 

In an effort to move the bargaining process toward resolution, the District team, with the support of the Board, has elected to exercise its legal right to seek assistance from a state mediator.  It is the District’s hope that a neutral third-party will help bring the parties closer together so a new contract can be reached in a timely fashion. 

If you have any questions about the ongoing negotiations, please contact a member of the CEA Bargaining Team.


District Bargaining Team and Board of Directors

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Central School District Negotiations Battle: Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant

By Ben Gorman,  CEA President, teacher at CHS

Independence and Monmouth are small enough communities that rumors can spark, catch fire, and spread. It’s important that we have some facts laid out clearly for all community members to check out for themselves before people get the wrong ideas about what is going on with our school district.

  • Fact 1: 
First of all, in case you haven’t heard, our contract negotiations have broken down. This means that we will soon go into mediation. It is the hope of the CEA that things can be resolved during that time, but that will require some movement by the school board.

  •  Fact 2: 
The school district has more money than it has in years past. You may have seen the article in the Itemizer in which our superintendent mentioned a reduction in funding. This, I presume, is not deception but a different understanding of a reduction in funds. The predictions for increased funding are quite high. However, the superintendent is skeptical that all that money will come in if other districts also have increased enrollment. Regardless, it will be more money than we had last year. In my book, that’s an increase in funding. He works with the numbers on a day to day basis, so to him it looks like a reduction from his expectations. I get that. But compared to last year’s funding, it’s more. I call that an increase.

  • Fact 3: 
When the idea of right-sizing (i.e. closing Henry Hill and consolidating the elementary school populations) was proposed, our school board and the district office staff came to the teachers and asked for our help. They knew they would not have the community’s support if they were battling the teachers at the same time. They assured us that right-sizing would lead to two things: increases in pay for teachers and increases in full time employment (FTE) which would lead to reduced class sizes for our kids. At that time, they went before the community and said, in no uncertain terms, that teachers had taken hits for years and deserved to be fairly compensated, and that we needed to increase our FTE in order to reduce our class sizes. Those were both priorities for the teachers of Central School District, and we appreciated the district’s emphasis on sustainable salary increases and increases to FTE.

  • Fact 4: 
The school district’s initial offer was so low that, adjusted for inflation, it would have been a pay cut for many of our teachers. The teachers (the CEA) offered to reduce our demands if the school district would promise to increase FTE as they said they would. They refused.

  • Fact 5: 
Teachers also wanted to increase the length of the school year to make up for years where days were cut. We recognize that one of the most important ways to improve student performance and close the achievement gap is to increase the length of the school year. We offered to increase the length of the school year with the caveat that the increased time would be devoted to student instruction. The district refused this offer as well.

  • Fact 6: 
I’ve already heard about one false rumor making its way around town. Someone has been saying that the hang-up in negotiations comes from teachers wanting gym memberships. I’m certain this is a product of the telephone game gone awry, but it is categorically untrue. Going into this negotiation, many teachers and classified staff were upset about that fact that a select few teachers and community members have been given access to high quality work-out equipment in the high school’s weight room, while the rest of us do not have access. Similarly, some teachers are granted free access to sporting events, concerts, plays, etc., while others are not. In an effort to address this inequity, we proposed language which is similar to that found in other districts which would grant teachers access to these school events so they could: cheer on former students; provide some added supervision; and, because many would bring family members, actually increase attendance at these events. The district said that they considered this a worthy goal, but they were hesitant to put it into the teachers’ contract since the same thing should be afforded to the classified staff, and they would remedy it with a board policy. We thought that was a fine idea, and we told them we would remove it from our proposal as soon as the board put such a policy in place. The board has met a half a dozen times since the beginning of negotiations, and had yet to take care of this. As far as we can tell, the only action taken by the district was when the business manager came personally to the high school and took some equipment that belonged to an individual teacher and some equipment that belonged to the school’s P.E. department (which had been used for a class put on by the Get Fit program, a grant designed to help staff improve their health and lower the district’s insurance costs). This equipment was moved to the district office. (Don’t believe me? Go check. It’s still there.) This ham-fisted attempt to rectify the situation had nothing to do with the teachers’ concerns about the weight room, but it does beg the question about what kind of business the business manager was managing while taking this private property back to the district office. Regardless, this whole issue is certainly not a hold-up in the negotiations since the teachers have already stated that we’re willing to drop the language as soon as the board adopts a consistent and fair policy, and since the board has had ample opportunities to do so. We expect they will take care of this at the coming board meeting. Please attend that meeting to see if they do, so that the false rumor can be laid to rest permanently.

Because this bargaining situation has devolved to this stalemate, and because it has to do with issues that are so important (people’s livelihoods and the education of our communities’ children) it’s easy to see how emotions can run high and things could get ugly. That does not need to happen. This is a case of two groups of good people with different priorities. The people who sit on the school board donate their time and talents in positions where they only get attention when people are upset with them. They are doing what they think is best for this community’s kids. Unfortunately, we don’t think their priorities match up with those of the parents and voters. Large sums of money are being allocated for “curriculum” without clear descriptions of what that money will be used for. Is it textbooks? Tablets? High-paid guest lecturers? Expensive conferences (largely for administrators and specialists who don’t work one-on-one with kids)? All of these things have value. The district has also allocated money for future land purchases. At some point in the future, if enrollment continues to increase, the district will need more buildings and the land to put them on. Of course, increased enrollment also brings in more money, so we think it makes more sense to spend current dollars on current students. We know (and all the research supports) that the most important factors in a child’s education are the quality of his/her teachers and the amount of time he/she spends in the classroom with those teachers. We have exceptional teachers in our community, but we risk losing them when we offer wages that allow some of them to qualify for food stamps. We also risk losing students when we offer a shorter school year than many districts around us. The school board has agreed that these situations should be addressed. They just don’t want to do it right now. If you are concerned about the balance of priorities, and you want to see the district retain the best teachers and employ them for a full school year, please contact your board member privately and attend the next board meeting on December 9th at 6:30pm at the new district office (formerly the site of Henry Hill Elementary). Let them know that you want them to enter into mediation willing to compromise for the sake of the children of this community and the teachers who make that possible.