Bargaining between 4J and EEA goes south

The Eugene School District’s teachers’ union, the Eugene Education Association (EEA), participated in “what turned out to be an exercise of frustration,” last night, according to the EEA’s bargaining newsletter. In the second full bargaining session between EEA and District 4J, members of the EEA bargaining team tried to understand why District 4J wanted to make significant changes to their contract, the newsletter says. According to the newsletter:

Time after time the District’s outside lawyer was unable to answer basic questions about the 4J offer, parts of which would strip away our members’ hard-fought rights. At times even members of the District’s team appeared baffled as to the reason behind many of the proposed language changes. This left both the bargaining team and members scratching their heads as to who wrote the proposal and why.

The EEA team also probed the financial provisions in the District proposal, which offers a permanent loss of a step, no COLA [cost of living adjustment], no increase in insurance contribution, and five furlough days. The District lawyer justified the offer as a way to reduce workload and lower class size. Upon further questioning, the District lawyer estimated their proposal would lower class size averages by less than one student per class.

Several times throughout the evening, frustrated EEA team members asked why the District would embark on a full frontal assault on the contract this late in the school year when it’s so evident all parties should be focusing on achieving swift, fair settlement. EEA’s proposal offers a plan that would wisely use next year’s additional resources and recognize the many serious workload concerns EEA has addressed in its proposal. It is our hope that 4J reconsiders the direction it has taken and gets serious about negotiations.

4J hired lawyer Kelly Noor to help with the bargaining. Noor was involved in the negotiations between the Medford school district and the teachers’ union, which ended in a strike. According to a guest viewpoint in the Register-Guard written by 4J Superintendent Shelley Berman and Eugene School Board Chairwoman Mary Walston, the district “has made an initial contract proposal that follows through on a promise to restore school days, avoid layoffs and reduce class sizes. The district’s offer would achieve all those goals and improve conditions for teachers and students alike.” The op-ed continues:

The district’s offer restores 26 teaching positions that otherwise would get cut to help close a $3.6 million budget gap in the preliminary 2014-15 budget. In addition to keeping these teachers in the classroom, the contract proposed by the district would allow us to add teachers to reduce class sizes and teachers’ workload, fund elementary music and physical education, provide preparation time for elementary teachers and increase instructional time by restoring four of the nine unpaid furlough days that have made 2013-14 Eugene’s shortest school year ever.

Those are big wins that would make a difference in every classroom next year.

The trade-off: Funds can be spent only once. A dollar spent to hire more teachers or maintain the current ratio of teachers to students can’t also be spent on increasing salaries and benefits.

To achieve these goals and improve classroom conditions for teachers and students, the district has proposed holding base salaries stable for one year: no cost-of-living increases, and no automatic steps forward on the salary scale.

According to the EEA’s newsletter, District 4J canceled tomorrow’s bargaining session. The next session is 4-8pm Thursday, May 15, at the EEA Office, 2815 Coburg Rd.