The Linn Benton Lincoln Education Service District board voted unanimously on a pick to succeed retiring Superintendent Mary McKay on Tuesday night, choosing Tonja Everest, the assistant superintendent at Greater Albany Public Schools.
That decision, which is pending a background check and a pay agreement, was overshadowed, however, by ongoing contract negotiations with workers.
Before the meeting, about 30 educators carried picket signs outside the district office in Albany and engaged in a call-and-response chant.
“What do you want?” a union representative asked, his voice amplified by a bullhorn.
“When do you want it?”
“Now,” the educators exclaimed.
Contract negotiations between the LBL ESD and more than 100 workers, including special education teachers and early childhood educators, have stalled over the issue of flex time.
The talks have been underway for about a year, and those salaried employees have been working without a contract for nine months, said Andi Boyer, LBL ESD Education Association president and a school psychologist.
“This has been so incredibly stressful and frustrating to our members,” Boyer said.
Several of those picketing at the rally attended the board meeting.
The district has proposed that those workers can access flex time after reaching 42 hours in any given week.
Brooke Gentle, occupational therapist, said workers currently are allowed to take flex time for certain activities if they go over 40 hours.
And that extra time adds up to eight or nine days over the course of a year, educators said.
“It’s a whole day a month,” said Karen Cunningham, another occupational therapist.
“I’m a single mom,” Gentle said. “Eight extra hours means eight hours less with my child.”
Like many teachers, these educators said they put in plenty of time doing paperwork and other tasks at home.
Jerry Ladovsky, an autism consultant from Corvallis, said the negotiations were driving a wedge between workers and administrators, and the argument over flex time was unnecessary.
“Even if they got flex time, they don’t have the time to take flex time because their caseloads are too big,” he said.
The LBL ESD encompasses a three-county area, and both sides agree that complicates matters. For example, some workers headquartered in Albany need to drive to Lincoln County multiple times a week.
LBL ESD Assistant Superintendent Don Dorman acknowledged that flex time helps recruit educators to his agency.
“There is no expectation of everyone working 42 hours a week,” he added.
Dorman said the district wants to resolve the negotiations as quickly as possible.
Ken Volante, Oregon Education Association consultant, was encouraged by newly scheduled bargaining sessions set for Monday and Wednesday, March 21.
Regarding the district’s choice for superintendent, McKay said that Everest’s broad range of experience, including serving as a school counselor, principal and in other roles, made her the top pick.
“She’s been around a long time. She’s been in four of our districts,” McKay added.