ELGIN TEACHER TALKS GO TO MEDIATION

September 16, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Should the Elgin School Districts teachers and classified staff be given their Friday afternoons off as compensation for time worked?

This question is holding up contract negotiations between the school district and its teachers and classified staff.

Negotiations have stalled and the bargaining teams for both sides have agreed to seek the services of a mediator.

At issue are salaries, benefits and time compensation. Elgins teachers and classified staff are asking for a small salary increase. In addition they want to have their Friday afternoons off.

Presently classes are dismissed around noon on Fridays but school district employees must remain on the job until 4 p.m. Teachers are available to help students with school work during the afternoon.

The school board is offering to compromise on this issue and allow teachers and classified staff to leave at 3 p.m. on Fridays. Board members feel strongly about not releasing teachers for the entire afternoon.

The board is reluctant to give this (the Friday afternoons) up. A lot of students benefit from this, said Bud Scoubes, a member of the school boards bargaining team.

This sentiment is echoed by Therese Wiles, also a member of the boards bargaining team. Wiles said that the Friday afternoon availability of teachers helps many students, especially those in high school.

You hate to give up something anytime it benefits students and their education, Wiles said.

Teachers and classified staff members, however, believe they deserve to have all of Friday afternoon off.

We feel that it is a matter of respect and appreciation. Teachers put in many hours before and after school, said second-grade teacher Marta Naughton, who is president of the Elgin Education Association and a member of the teacher-classified staff bargaining team.

Elgins teachers have proposed a compromise and offered to have three teachers work on a rotating basis each Friday afternoon. A grade school, middle school and high school teacher would be present on Friday afternoons to help students. In addition, one secretary would work each Friday afternoon.

One percent jump

Elgins teachers and classified staff are in the final year of a four-year contract. A reopener clause allows salaries and benefits to be renegotiated each year. Elgins teachers and classified staff bargain as one unit.

The teachers and classified staff are asking for a 1 percent salary increase for 2001-02, one which would not take effect until January. The mid-school-year pay raise would not be retroactive. This means it would be the equivalent of a .5 percent raise for 2001-02, Naughton said.

The employee bargaining team is asking that some classified workers receive a 2 percent pay increase because the nature of their jobs would not allow them to take Friday afternoons off.

Teachers and classified staff are not asking for more financial compensation because they realize how financially strapped the Elgin School District is, Naughton said.

We understand what a tough situation the school board is in, she said.

The school districts budget is being hit hard by declining enrollment. Dropping student numbers have a major financial impact because school districts receives about $5,000 per student from the state.

Because of its tight budget, the school district is offering no increase in the base salary for teachers and classified staff. However, it would keep its salary schedule intact, Scoubes said. This means that those not at the top of the salary schedules would continue receiving pay increases for step increases. A step increase is granted to an employee each year he or she is with the school district until they reach the top of the pay scale.

Teachers and classified staff receive step increases of about 2 to 3 percent each year for experience. Teachers also get further step increases when they receive additional education.

About one third of the school districts teachers and classified staff are at the top of the salary scale. This means that they cannot receive step increases.

Teachers at the top of the Elgin School Districts salary scale receive $44,450 a year and starting teachers earn $24,639. Elgins top salary is the fifth lowest among Northeast Oregons 21 school districts and and its base is the third lowest, Naughton said.

Benefits

The teachers and classified staff are asking for a $48 increase in what the school district pays per employee each month for health insurance coverage. The school district presently pays $472 a month per employee.

Should the district grant the $48 increase, employees would be paying between $30 and $50 a month out of their own pockets for health insurance. This is based on projected health insurance increases which take effect in October.

The school district is offering to boost what it pays for health insurance by $15 to $487 a month.

Scoubes is confident that a settlement will be reached.

We will settle. We will find common ground that is workable for both parties, he said.

Scoubes said that being involved in negotiations is frustrating because the school districts funding is so limited due to state restrictions.

It is very stressful for everyone involved, he said. ... It is hard to compromise because the state has tied our hands.