(Editor's note: This story has been updated to replace a previous version that included incorrect information).
Following a meeting filled with back-and-forth negotiations, the Philomath teachers union and the school district’s contract bargaining team came to terms during a June 3 meeting.
The district’s two-year agreement with the Philomath Education Association will give licensed teachers a cost-of-living increase of 3 percent the first year and 3.5 percent the second year. Employees on extra-duty contracts receive a 1.5 percent increase.
In addition, the district’s contribution to a cash health insurance pool will increase by $10,000 to a total of $50,000. The pool helps employees with family coverage offset extreme out-of-pocket costs.
Already in place for step-eligible employees is a 4 percent increase as mandated in their contracts.
“I think we feel like this is a fair and equitable settlement,” said David Dunham, the PEA’s bargaining chair. “It’s not what we would have chosen but we think as long as everybody’s a little unhappy, then we’re probably doing OK.”
Superintendent of Schools Melissa Goff, who is in her final month with the district, felt the process worked well.
“I am really pleased that we have a two-year contract that the union members will be voting on to ratify and that the process has been open and collegial, even at times when we disagree,” Goff said. “I think that is really the best outcome you can have when you’re negotiating. I’m hoping that our teachers will feel well taken care of and valued and I also feel confident that the district is living within its means.”
School board member Rick Wells, who has been a part of teacher contract negotiations since 2004, believes it was a reasonable offer for both sides.
“It’s something that we can live with but it’s going to be — I won’t say a huge strain on the budget ... but it’s going to be right up there,” Wells said. “We have to look out No. 1 for the kids and the district and the patrons of the district that are paying the bills.”
Wells read a short statement before getting into the district’s final counteroffer that increases in full-time equivalency for teaching positions and counselors have had a direct impact on the negotiations.
“We are committed to keeping these positions stable as they serve the neediest of our students,” he said. “When we add those things, we have to take that into account when we make offers.”
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In a statement with the final counteroffer, Wells said, “If enrollment increases, we may be unable to add the general education staff necessary to keep current class sizes, or, if enrollment stays flat or declines, we may need to reduce general education staff — this would also result in larger class sizes.”
On the other side of the table, Dunham, who has been involved with contract negotiations five times now over the past 17 or 18 years, said the association felt that teachers should be fairly compensated to make up for several lean years of a mean economy.
“We felt like, as we said at the table many times, it was a good time for us to make up some ground that we lost in the earlier part of this century,” Dunham said. “It’s always a challenge to negotiate with finite resources with the needs of the kids in our district and the school and all of our teachers and everybody who works for the school district.”
Dunham believes the teachers have sacrificed a lot over the years for the overall good.
“Licensed payroll is a huge piece of the district budget, so when we’re talking about money, we’re talking about the health of the district,” Dunham said, who confirmed later in the week that the PEA had ratified the agreement. “We felt like the teachers in this district have done a lot of work to help get bonds passed and help keep the district afloat and moving forward.”
At times during the meeting, emotions at the bargaining table ran a bit high, including a moment when Dunham questioned Wells on why the district felt it necessary to reiterate old information.
“Even though the negotiations by nature are adversarial, everybody in the room was really looking out for the best interests of the district and the kids that go to school here,” Dunham said. “This is our job, our profession, and we take it seriously. We’re public servants and we’re obligated to work under a union contract and union contracts are part of the business.”
As one might assume, the sticking point between the two sides came down to money.
“It boils down to what the district has, what the association feels that we have and how much they think we’re going to get in the future and we’re trying to protect the students of this district and class sizes and things like that,” Wells said. “The patrons of this district gave $29 million to upgrade these buildings and I want to see enough put away in the maintenance projects to save these buildings for a number of years.”
Dunham said that the agreements in the neighboring Corvallis School District are always on the teachers’ minds.
“We live in the Corvallis financial district,” Dunham said. “We don’t live in Monroe and our home values are the same as Corvallis and we make about $10,000 a year less than Corvallis teachers. And that’s a trade-off most of us have consciously made but we’d like to at least keep up with them.”