Board OKs contract for district staff

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home School Board last week ratified a contract and 3.1-percent raises for classified employees following an unconventional bargaining session.

The new contract will start July 1 and will last for three years, through 2021-22.

The board ratified the contract during its regular meeting on Nov. 12. Present and voting to ratify were board members Jim Gourley, Jason Van Eck, Chanz Keeney, Mike Reynolds, Jason Redick and Debra Brown. Angela Clegg and Jenny Daniels were absent.

“This was probably the best contract negotiations the classified have had in years,” said Velma Canfield, president of the classified association. “I’m happy to have it done truthfully, and it was painless.”

Bargaining began with some informal conversations between Canfield and Supt. Tom Yahraes.

“Basically, we were talking about something else,” Canfield said. That conversation turned toward the upcoming bargaining session. They talked about how nice it would be to just get it done.

“We started talking in September,” Canfield said. “I personally like to bargain sooner in the (school) year rather than later.”

Traditionally, negotiations begin in February or March, she said, which is long after her preferred start.

Typical bargaining involves teams representing the classified association and its field representative, and the district administration, board members and a labor attorney. The two sides exchange proposals and counter proposals until reaching a tentative agreement they can take back to their respective groups. Often, the process can turn contentious and stretch into the following year, with employees working without a contract.

Canfield and Yahraes did a lot of the work followed by additional meetings with Canfield and her team, but with no outside consultants, representatives or attorneys.

Canfield sent the proposed contract to her union representative for review, which resulted in what Yahraes referred to as “contract maintenance”– minor changes, like spelling out numbers.

Yahraes ran the contract by the Oregon School Boards Association for review, he said.

“I called them and said , ‘I think we’re done bargaining.’ At first, they thought I was joking.”

“We didn’t sit at the table,” Canfield said. “Tom and I were talking. I said, ‘You come up with something good and maybe we could get this done before Christmas break.'”

“Velma and I talked about the upcoming year and some of the things our plate,” Yahraes said. “We both kind of groaned at springtime bargaining. We chatted about how we could make bargaining better and more effective.

“We said, ‘Let’s not waste time positioning ourselves as adversaries. Let’s get to the heart of the matter.'”

A week later, he told Canfield the district could offer 3.1 percent increases per year. The contract is three years long and begins July 1.

Local union leadership got involved at that point and the contract was done in a few short meetings, Yahraes said.

The district will increase its contribution to insurance premiums by $30 per month in the first year, $35 in the second and $40 in the third year, when it will pay a total insurance premium of $1,155 per month per employee.

The contract also includes language allowing employees to opt out of insurance, if they already have coverage from another source, in exchange for a cash bonus of $200 per month, which saves the district $880 per month in premiums.

By comparison, in the current contract, the classified received 2.5-percent raises in 2016-17, 2 percent in the second year and 2 percent this year.

“We had it all figured out,” Canfield said. “This is the best contract we’ve had in years, since probably 2007. We bargained in good faith. That’s where it’s at. It’s nice to be able to bargain in good faith and trust the person sitting across from me. It was nice to be able to do it in such a friendly way.”

They got it done six months ahead of schedule, Yahraes said, and over three years, the classified will receive a compounded 9.6-percent increase in wages.

“They are the backbone of our education programs and services, from transportation to food services to keep our schools clean,” Yahraes said. They’re the secretaries and education assistance, the support staff that allows teachers to do their jobs.

The classified took the brunt of cuts in fall 2012 when the district went to a four-day school week, Yahraes said. “We restored those hours, and we’re proud to increase wages.”

The classified staff are talented, Yahraes said, and he wants them to know the district recognizes and appreciates that.

“I do look forward to next year with the teachers, with the process being as direct and collaborative,” Yahraes said. “It was a great process. The home teams did not position ourselves as adversaries. It feels nice we don’t have that burden on our backs when it comes to springtime.”

In other business, the board:

– Appointed former special education teacher Toni Peterson to the Board of Directors, Crawfordsville position, which was left vacant by the resignation of Carol Babcock.

– Appointed Jeffrey Kershaw to the Budget Committee. The Budget Committee has eight open positions. For more information or to apply, call the district office at (541) 367-7126.

– Accepted the resignation of Oak Heights Elementary School Counselor Yoseph Cohen.

– Approved an out-of-state trip by the high school varsity cheerleaders to attend a national cheerleading competition in Anaheim, Calif.

-Presented the Golden Shoe to Hawthorne Elementary School for having the highest attendance rate in October. Holley School returned the Golden Shoe, decorated as a hawk’s nest (Holley’s mascot is a hawk) in the forest, to Hawthorne.

At 95.53 percent attendance, Hawthorne edged out Oak Heights, 95.08, for the top spot in October.

The award is an old shoe painted gold and given to the school with the highest attendance rate for the previous month. Schools typically decorate the shoe when they win it.

Hawthorne won the shoe for the year in 2017-18.