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Teachers settle for more money

Oak Harbor teachers on average will each take home $750 more this year, thanks to an agreement reached Friday with the school district.

Oak Harbor Education Association re-opened the teachers’ contract to ask the school district to fund additional non-teaching days, partly in response to the state freeze on teachers’ pay. A federal mediator was called in last week when teachers and the district failed to reach an agreement. The teachers had been asking for four additional paid days.

Under the agreement reached Friday, certificated staff will see their supplemental pay days increase from 8 to 11 this year, and to 12 next school year. That will take them up to spring 2005, when the teachers’ contract is up for renewal.

While less than half of the district’s 340 certificated staff voted Friday, 135 out of the 139 teachers voting approved the agreement.

Peter Szalai, union president, estimated the extra days will cost the district $345,000 this year, and $805,000 over two years. How much each teacher receives is based on a percentage of their salary, so it will vary.

While Szalai said the agreement does not bring Oak Harbor in line with teachers in Stanwood — what he calls “the standard” — he said the teachers overall are satisfied.

“We are very pleased the school board is beginning to recognize the local responsibility to help increase compensation for teachers,” he said.

Oak Harbor School Superintendent Rick Schulte was also pleased with the results.

“It was a positive, productive negotiating session,” he said. “There were good feelings on both sides.”

The big question now is how the district will fund the extra days. Schulte suggested moving money from I-728 and three certificated staffing positions left unfilled. As president of the teachers’ union, Szalai would like to see the district explore other alternatives besides using money earmarked for teachers.

“They can reprioritize the budget in other ways,” he suggested, such as using money from the general fund balance, or other non-teaching positions.

Schulte said on average leaving three teaching positions vacant will have little effect on class size. It all depends on where those positions are. While three in one grade would have an impact, a wider dispersion would be less noticeable.

The agreement also addresses one of the points that caused the talks to stall originally. While the district had proposed teachers do extra work for the extra pay, union negotiators contended they already do extra work without pay outside of contracted time. Under the agreement, teachers will not be required to do any additional work, such as staff development, for the extra days.

They also agreed to a condition to not exercise their contract “re-opener” next year in exchange for these days. This makes it the last negotiation before spring of 2005. Or almost the last.

A contingency clause of the agreement states that if there is a “significant reduction” in state or federal funding to the district, the added days will be removed, and the union may immediately open negotiations regarding the supplemental days.

Schulte said given the current state of the nation and economy, federal funding is anything but certain.

“It’s important to acknowledge that uncertainty,” he said.

Also on the bargaining table was the district’s re-opener, the issue of adding teachers’ interpersonal skills to the evaluation criteria.

Schulte said this came about as the result of conflicts that arose either among teachers or between teachers and administrators, that were not being properly resolved.

Under the agreement, a Memo of Understanding was drafted which outlines how this is already addressed in the teachers’ contract, and agreed to a set of steps that individuals would take in order to resolve interpersonal conflicts.

“We needed to give people the skills to handle conflicts,” Schulte said.

The memo includes a provision for joint training by the district and the teachers’ association for all staff to develop an “effective professional culture,” and outlined steps to resolve conflict between parties. Mediation by an administrator would be the last step.

The OHEA negotiating team consisted of Vince Hagel, OHHS; Vallerie Goodman, OVE; Kaelan Anderson, CVE; Amber Sundown-Schwartz, OHMS; Mike Watson, CHE. Negotiating for the school district were Barbara James, Laura Aesoph, Doug Kyles and David Peterson.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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