Negotiations with teachers hinge on goals

When it comes to going back to school, Oak Harbor teachers want “the three Rs” from the district.

Those three Rs stand for recruiting, retaining and rewarding, said Peter Szalai, co-president of Oak Harbor Education Association, and the teachers’ union’s contract negotiations with Oak Harbor School District hinge on the attainment of those goals.

OHEA representatives have had “six or seven” bargaining sessions with the district since April, Szalai said, asking for the district’s agreement on three “priority issues.”

Through the union, teachers are asking for an increase in the rate of pay for substitute teachers and contract language promising equitable class sizes, Szalai said, plus they want the district to help them pay for a recent increase in monthly health insurance premiums.

The district pays substitute teachers, which the union prefers to call “guest teachers,” less than most districts in the area, Szalai said.

The issue of class-size equitability stems from highly populated areas around some elementary schools. In one part of town a teacher may have 20 students in a class, while a teacher of the same grade level across town might have a class of 29 students. The union has the same concern for other certificated personnel, such as librarians and counselors.

While the school district is not responsible for where houses are built or where families choose to live, OHEA wants the district to agree to transfer students around the district to more evenly distribute them.

Asked about the impact on families that would prefer their children attend the closest neighborhood school, Szalai said the union is “sensitive” to families but must be concerned about the working conditions of its members.

Szalai said Oak Harbor School District made a settlement offer to OHEA and that a union contract team will meet Monday to decide whether the offer is “acceptable.” The two sides will meet Aug. 28 to see if they can reach an agreement.

In the wake of the school board’s adoption of a budget last Monday that might result in a low general fund ending balance, Szalai said the district can afford to agree to the union’s contract requests.

“Any budget is a product of priorities and assumptions,” Szalai said. “The board needs to look at priorities.”

With the current teachers’ contract expiring on Aug. 31, both sides are hopeful an agreement can be reached at the Aug. 28 meeting.

District officials aren’t saying much about the most recent proposal or giving specifics about how negotiations are going.

“We’re hopeful to resolves all of these concerns on August 28th,” said Barbara James, the district’s human resources director and the contract negotiations team leader. “We’re meeting and spending the day concluding those negotiations. Things are going very well.”

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