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School workers seek mediation

For the third time, the Public School Employees union and the Oak Harbor School District are seeking a mediator to help the two sides agree on a new contract.

The more than 260 PSE union employees have been working without a contract since Aug. 31, when their last three-year contract expired.

“The administration doesn’t appear to be that interested in attracting and retaining quality employees to support the education of Oak Harbor students,” said Linda Preder, PSE union co-president, in a news release. She is a bus driver for the school district.

The PSE union represents many of the school district’s support staff, including bus drivers, instructional assistants, secretaries, custodians, information technology staff and food service employees.

District Superintendent Rick Schulte said the last two contract negotiations ended up in mediation which led to a resolution. He is hopeful that it will produce the same benefit this time.

Union members attended last week’s special school board meeting where they distributed information.

Contract issues include more flexible vacations, affordable health insurance funding, and a better process for assigning extracurricular field trips to bus drivers.

The union also contends that the average hourly wages for classified employees are below the average for similar-sized school districts.

PSE union employees also haven’t received their state-mandated raises. School officials have said that raise won’t kick in until the new contract is approved.

The two sides haven’t met since November and meetings aren’t scheduled until January. Negotiating sessions are scheduled for Jan. 10 and Jan. 23, however, those dates could change depending on the mediator’s schedule.

Schulte wouldn’t speculate as to why the contract negotiations with PSE take so long.

Union officials are running out of patience with the lengthy contract talks.

“Our patience is running thin as we attempt to get the district to recognize that words are one thing, now is the time to put their works into action,” said Preder.

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