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A 'red sea' of teachers showed up at district board meeting to stand their ground amid contract negotiations

The "red sea" could not be parted last Thursday night. No, it flooded in around district leaders at the school board's work session Nov. 7.

More than 60 Canby teachers showed up to the meeting, wearing red, to stand behind their request for higher pay in the midst of contract negotiations and to express unrest over how long the negotiations are taking.

PMG PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - Canby teachers attend the Nov. 7 Canby School District board work session to contend for their requested pay increase that would inch them closer to making pace with inflation.

"We see a pattern in the school district's reluctance to settle a contract," said teacher Chris Bangs at the meeting in his public comment to the board on behalf of teachers. "This is the third contract negotiation in a row that has not been settled by June 30. This is my 20th year. Every other contract negotiation had always been settled before the end of the fiscal year."

Canby Education Association teachers are currently in the middle of a 4-year contract with the district, with a reopener after two years (now) to negotiate salary, benefits, and potentially other aspects of the contract, according to Karen Spies, Oregon Education Association consultant for Canby teachers.

The typical period for negotiations is 150 calendar days, which passed on Nov. 4. At this point, either the district or the union could declare an impasse, which would result in mediation and could lead to a strike, according to Troy Soles, the teacher association's bargaining chair.

"We're really frustrated and angry," Bangs said at the meeting. "Increasingly, teachers are asking me, 'When do we start working to rule? When do we start refusing to do any grading outside of our regular contract hours because we're making less and less money?'"

Bangs revealed that teachers had originally asked for a 6-percent increase in pay, which he said does not bring teacher salaries up enough to be in line with Portland-area inflation. He said currently Canby teacher salaries are 9 percent behind area inflation rates.

Bangs pointed to a chart he made, saying, "The red line shows the increasing gap between what things cost, for those of us who live in this area, and what we're making. That is the essential reason why we cannot settle for what the board has insisted is apparently appropriate for us."

He suggested perhaps the board does not have accurate local data around inflation rates since the Oregon School Boards Association only provides the national rate.

It was back on June 6 that teachers had asked for that 6-percent increase, plus an increase in the district's insurance contribution and improvements to teacher planning and preparation time, per Soles.

Three weeks later, the district countered, offering just a 1.5-percent salary increase this year and a $25 increase to the monthly insurance contribution, Soles said.

"Since then, we have met four more times with the respective sides offering counter proposals each time, and the CEA making significant financial concessions each time while the district has made their most significant concessions in working conditions language," Soles said.

The district's latest offer, on Oct. 21, was a 3-percent salary increase for both of the remaining years of the contract and a $65 per month increase to the district's insurance contribution, according to Soles.

The CEA countered that same evening, Soles said, asking for a 3-percent increase in year one and a 5-percent increase in the second year when the district will be realizing some of the additional funding from the state's Student Success Act and savings with the new PERS reforms that go into effect in July 2020. They also asked that the $65 insurance increase be applied both of the remaining years, since, he said, "Canby lags significantly behind neighboring comparable districts in our district's insurance contribution."

By comparison with other school districts, Canby's teacher salaries generally fare well though.

The Statesman Journal reported that for the 2017-18 academic year, Canby's starting salary at $39,691 ranked eighth highest in the state and Canby's max salary at $74,412 ranked fourth highest in the state behind Portland, Hillsboro and Beaverton.

Soles said teachers are hopeful that negotiations will not lead to a strike, but that the parties will reach an agreeable settlement before that point.

The school district offered the following statement.

"We value the hard work of all of our certified staff," the statement read. "We appreciate their dedication to the students of our district. We are continuing to bargain and are hopeful that we will reach a tentative agreement soon."

This story has been updated.

Kristen Wohlers
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