The Corvallis School Board solidified an agreement with a local teachers’ union for an additional cost-of-living adjustment, albeit trimmed compared to last year partially due to the coronavirus pandemic, come January.
In its Thursday meeting, the board unanimously ratified a financial agreement with the Corvallis Education Association implementing a 1% pay increase effective on New Year’s Day for certified staff. The raise is in addition to a 0.5% increase from July 1.
This adjustment is down from the 2019-2020 total increase of 3.75%, according to Olivia Meyers Buch, Corvallis School District’s director of finance and operations. She said the district has been experiencing “a pretty significant revenue shortfall” due to a decline in both student enrollment and the Student Success Act’s student investment account allocation.
“I think the outcome is favorable in that we’re not having to reduce staffing at this point and we’re still able to give a modest salary increase,” Buch added.
According to School Board documents, new contract negotiations started on Jan. 28. The financial components of the previous contract expired June 30, but its conditions were extended until a tentative agreement was reached on Oct. 6. The School Board’s Thursday decision effectively implemented the new contract.
“It’s a tough time to negotiate finances between our associations and our district because of the implications of living in our current state with COVID,” said Superintendent Ryan Noss in Thursday’s meeting, “and also just all of the implications for enrollment and all of those pieces and sort of looking at the state overall budget outlook going forward.”
Noss added that he’s proud of the communication between the district and its staff to come to the agreement, which will help in “maintaining the focus on school days and a strong workforce.”
Board member Vince Adams, who served as a liaison between the board and the CEA in negotiations, said school days were an important factor because they can be leveraged for maintaining costs.
“If you cut (school) days, then you can shave money from the budget,” Adams said in a phone call with the Gazette-Times on Friday. “But that also cuts seat time from kids.”
Between the district leadership and teachers, Adams said, the focus from the outset was reducing the financial uncertainties’ impact on kids.
“We’re making sure we’re not balancing the budget on the backs of kids,” he said. “It was a challenging negotiation.”
Adams added a “hats off” to district teachers for their ability to transition fully to distance learning so far this school year and said he wished the pay adjustment could have been more substantial.
“We just could not give the teachers a COLA that we would like to give them,” he said. “We would have loved to have given them a nice, big cost of living increase. It’s just a situation where there isn’t enough money to go around.”
Adams said the district and board are still in talks with the classified staff union, known as the Oregon School Employees Association.
“We are a pro-labor board and we will continue to fight with you to bring more resources for our district and for education,” said School Board Chair Sami Al-AbdRabbuh during Thursday’s meeting. “Challenges remain and we want to continue supporting our staff and that means we want to continue talking to our representatives on the state level and federal level to make sure we can sustain our operations and really provide the resources and funding for our staff.”
Nia Tariq can be reached at 541-812-6091. Follow her on Twitter @NiaTariq.