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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2011

Oregon board OKs teachers' 3-year pact

Concessionary deal saves district $3M

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A concessionary agreement between Oregon City Schools and the district's 250-member teachers' union will save about $3 million in the next three years.

School and union officials hailed the new multi-year contract as a cooperative commitment to the excellent educational program provided by the district.

Dave Shafer, president of the Oregon City Federation of Teachers, said the contract -- approved by the board Wednesday and ratified last week by the union -- was concessionary in wages and benefits, but necessary for the district to preserve educational opportunities and maintain "a high level of quality."

"It gives us three years of stability," Mr. Shafer said. "Now we can focus on teaching and learning. It is good for the kids."

And the contract is fair for teachers, he said.

"Teachers can come to school and not worry about job security."

Teachers agreed to a pay freeze in the base pay and to an increase in their contribution to health-care benefits.

The board of education, which Wednesday voted 4-0 to approve the contract with member Richard Gabel absent, gained back management rights language that will allow flexibility in the starting and ending times of the school day.

Superintendent Michael Zalar said that will allow the board to capture savings related to transportation, such as by reducing the number of bus routes.

"It allows us to be more flexible in determining when the instructional day begins and ends," he said.

The instructional day for the coming school year could be adjusted 10 minutes, primarily for elementary students, he said. Details on the new start time will be shared in the coming weeks with the community. The district no longer has busing for high school students.

Under the new contract, teachers will pay 15 percent, up from 10 percent, of their health-care benefits. For a teacher with a family plan, the change amounts to an additional cost of $720 per year, Mr. Shafer said.

Including the new contract, teachers have agreed to wage and benefit concessions for nine years, including multiple years of pay freezes, Mr. Shafer said, noting teachers understand the tough economic times and they appreciate the three years of financial stability that the new contract helps to achieve.

"We're thankful to have jobs," he said.

In the last few years, there have been layoffs and reductions in staff through attrition, amounting to 50 teaching positions, Mr. Shafer said.

The new contract, a culmination of a long process, is not perfect for all, but it is a good and fair agreement, providing stability to the district's programs for the next three years, Mr. Zalar said. The agreement, he said, keeps programs and staff in place.

Significant savings as a result of the new contract will enhance the district's financial outlook, allowing the district to operate in the black for the next three years, he said. The ending cash balance for the 2011-12 school year is estimated at $6 million, he said.

The months-long process to gain a new contract meant traveling down roads that people did not necessarily want to go down, Mr. Shafer said, but in the end, the road led to the contract that allows the district to move forward, and he said that is important.

The new contract will run until July 31, 2014. The previous contract was set to expire Sunday.

Eric Heintschel, board president, thanked the union and Oregon's administrators for working together to reach an agreement that maintains the district's quality of education.

"Our teachers continue to sacrifice for the greater good of the district. This contract demonstrates that the district is committed to working together and providing an excellent educational program at a great value to the community."

Oregon City Schools, with an operating budget of about $40 million, has cut general fund spending about $10 million during the last four years.

As a result of cuts for the coming school year, Wynn Elementary School will close and no longer serve as a K-5 elementary school. Students will be shifted to Oregon's Jerusalem Elementary.

Closing Wynn Elementary will result in the reduction of a number of classified staff members, such as cafeteria workers and custodians, and the reduction of an administrative position, the elementary principal's job.

Wynn's elementary classroom teaching positions will remain the same with those teachers assigned to Jerusalem Elementary or another elementary school in the district, depending upon student enrollment, according to Mr. Zalar.

The Wynn building will be used for other district programs. Closing of Wynn Elementary is part of Oregon City Schools' plan to cut $2.4 million in costs annually.

Contact Janet Romaker at: jromaker@theblade.com or 419-724-6006.



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