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'It was a compromise.' -Clarkes teacher and MREA representative Annette Delbridge

After a drawn-out negotiation process, Molalla teachers and the school district have reached agreement on teacher contracts.

The Molalla River Education Association and the Molalla River School District have been in negotiations since the labor agreement between the two expired June 30, 2018. The normal time for bargaining was nearly up, but the parties came to an agreement at the end of October, and the school board voted to approve the three-year contract at their Nov. 8 meeting.

"It was a compromise," said Clarkes teacher and MREA representative Annette Delbridge. "We appreciate the district's meeting us on that."

Superintendent Tony Mann indicated the agreement accomplished some important goals.

"As a public agency, many parameters are already set for us in law and public policy," Mann said. "It is good to revisit our local agreements to align to new legislation, and to refine in areas we agree can be improved. These recently concluded negotiations accomplished both those objectives."

Among the contract improvements for teachers were:

-two late starts each month dedicated to professional learning team collaboration

-220-245 minutes per week of uninterrupted planning time

-2 percent salary increase in 2018 and 2019 with a reopener in March 2020

-special education teachers may request substitute days in cases where additional time is needed to fulfill the legal requirements of their job

"Obviously, we would have like to have had a little more favorable language in getting the minutes for the elementary teachers," Delbridge said.

The more favorable language Delbridge had hoped for was in reference to the professional development time on two late starts per month. Teachers had asked that two late starts be designated for "teacher-directed" collaboration with other teachers.

"Let's say this week, I'm doing math and I'm frustrated because the kids aren't getting a concept…we wanted the freedom, if it's one of the late start Fridays of ours, to go see another first-grade teacher or seek out what I felt like would help me most professionally."

But in the final contract, "teacher-directed" was struck from the language, and it now reads that the two late starts each month will be designated for professional learning team collaboration "within areas assigned and guided by the site council and school improvement plan."

The education association was not legally allowed to ask that the district hire staff to meet the needs at schools, according to Delbridge. With the contractual promise of more planning time though, it is assumed the district will need to increase the hours of instructional assistants and hire more assistants.

According to the district's representative from the Oregon Education Association Karen Spies, the biggest challenge going forward will be the district implementing the specifications of the contract, which she says, will require hiring more staff.

"That's not going to happen overnight," Spies said. "And frankly, it's only a drop in the bucket to what is really needed in our schools. But you take what you can and then you keep building on it."

Delbridge said she is hopeful that the district will hire more staff to provide some breathing room for teachers, but she still has concerns.

"This town has always been very proud of its schools and its school system," Delbridge said. "And I feel like the teachers have always been—we have top-notch teachers. My biggest fear is that by being one of the lowest paying schools and having such a huge workload and not feeling supported, it does really make me nervous.

"I know some of my colleagues are looking elsewhere, and it just really makes me sad," she continued, "because it's not really about the money. They never bring that up. Even though we are the third-lowest (paid district in the county), that's never what they say. I think that's what makes me so sad is that the school board and the town have a responsibility to our kids; but it scares me that if we don't wake up to it soon, and as a business owner and living here, that we could see a big change in the quality of teachers that we have.

"And it's going to be too late then," she said.

Kristen Wohlers
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