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Teachers call for fair treatment as mediation talks begin

by: JEFF MCDONALD  - Certified teachers picketed in front of the Woodburn School District offices last week as mediation talks began between the two parties. After 12 hours of negotiations, no agreement was reached and further talks were scheduled for Dec. 12. There are no current discussions for a strike, said Cherene Mills, union president. Our conversations are focused on retaining our highly qualified teachers for our students, Mills said. Teachers were out in force last week as mediation talks resulted in stalemate between the Woodburn School District and its teachers’ union.

Cars and even some large semi-trucks honked as teachers waved and flashed signs asking for support on the corner of Highway 214 and Boones Ferry Road, outside the district office, as talks lasted 12 hours Tuesday.

“Our goal is to let the community know what’s going on,” said Jose Sandoval, vice-president of Woodburn Education Association, which represents licensed staff in the district. “We want to let them know that we serve because it’s our passion.”

The district and the union are between $1.5 million and $2 million apart over the three-year period, according to Chuck Ransom, WSD superintendent.

In a memo sent out last week to certified staff, Ransom argued that the district has given teachers an additional 15 percent in its three-year contract proposal, including $2.6 million toward salaries and benefits and $1 million for the restoration of a full school year.

The district bargaining position includes a 1 percent salary increase for 2013-14 and 2014-15 and 1.5 percent increase in 2015-16, plus pay increases for eligible employees each year of the contract, caps on the amount employees pay for insurance and no furlough days for all three years of the contract, according to Ransom.

“These additional financial contributions on the district’s part were not sufficient for the association bargaining team,” Ransom wrote in his memo. “During the course of the 12-hour mediation session, the association team did not present any formal bargaining proposals, instead choosing to present two documents entitled ‘What If’s,’ which represented little change from their prior proposal.”

But union leaders found flaws in the district’s calculations, said Cherene Mills, president of the Woodburn Education Association and a teacher at Valor Middle School.

“His comment about restoring the full eight days – we feel that is for the benefit of students,” Mills said. “We don’t consider that a pay raise. I am hesitant to consider that a valid argument.”

Mills felt the district presented an all-or-nothing bargaining approach. Other language in the district’s proposal included lowering tuition reimbursement for licensing updates and professional development, including the number of credit hours that would be reimbursed and the dollar amount, Mills said.

The district reimburses up to 18 credits at $275 per credit. Under the proposal, the district would only reimburse up to 12 credits and would cap tuition reimbursement and workshops throughout the district.

Talks will resume Dec. 12, Mills said. In the meantime, the eight-member bargaining team will consult with their 334 members on next steps.

“We can only do what our members ask us to do,” she said.




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