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After extended back-and-forth talks with the district, a tentative agreement is in place

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - Following a lengthy delay brought on by disagreements on language, the local teachers' union has reached a tentative agreement with the Newberg School District.

Following a lengthy delay brought on by disagreements on language, the local teachers' union has reached a tentative agreement with the Newberg School District.

The previous contract teachers had with the district was set to expire on June 30. The teachers' union submitted its letter of intent to negotiate in February, but the two sides were unable to reach a formal agreement by the deadline.

Talks resumed in August after both district officials and teachers weren't able to get together in July, and representatives from both sides finally reached an agreement on Oct. 4 after teachers worked without an official union contract for nearly a month.

The conceptual, tentative agreement was reached after plenty of back-and-forth between the teachers' union and district officials, who for a time were far apart from each other on some key components of the agreement. Newberg Education Association president Jennifer Schneider was one of the leading voices advocating on behalf of teachers.

"There were definitely some contentious moments, especially when we were asked why we wanted certain language in regard to student safety," Schneider said. "We wanted to make sure that language was representative of what we were hearing from the community, as well as what we were observing in our own classrooms.

"We had tentatively agreed on multiple articles within our contract and we had come to an agreement as to what the other articles needed to include. Now the work is in how do we agree to exact language that both sides will agree to. The hard and fast facts are agreed on."

Schneider said she will meet with Newberg Superintendent Joe Morelock on Thursday to hash out many of the remaining details of the agreement. Teachers were represented in previous meetings by Schneider, other board members from the NEA, representatives from the elementary, middle and high schools and an Oregon Education Association official. The district's representation included Morelock, director of teaching and learning Derek Brown and finance director Nikki Fowler, among others.

Schneider argues that Newberg teachers – including many that have been in the district for decades – haven't been properly compensated or received the benefits they deserve in recent years. A tight district budget and the adjustments made to compensate for a lack of state funding are to blame, she said, but with the passage of the Student Success Act she feels local teachers have more leverage.

"In Newberg, we have given a lot in order to help the district come out of the financial position they were in over the past few years," Schneider said. "With that, we've lost some ground and there are some teachers who spoke at a recent board meeting about the challenges they've faced in their lives. Some have had to ask for financial or medical assistance because they can't keep up with their own bills.

"Knowing that they could travel a few miles up the road and get paid substantially more, along with receiving more medical benefits, was enticing a lot of people to leave. Our school board mentioned that if they are going to invest in teachers, they wanted to make sure that teachers will return the favor and invest in the Newberg School District. Part of that is making sure there is a compensation package that keeps teachers here and gives them what they've earned."

The teachers' union initially wanted a one-year contract, but it agreed to the district's desired three-year plan with stipulations that more professional development will be available for teachers along with other changes that Schneider hopes will benefit students as much as they do staff members.

After Schneider and Morelock meet on Thursday, a ratification meeting is set for Oct. 23 at Newberg High School. There, teachers' union members will vote on the proposal and ratify it before sending it off to the Newberg school board for approval.

Details of the proposal are expected to be released once it is finalized, with the three-year contract beginning retroactively during this school year and slated to run through 2022.

"There was a different feel in the beginning," Schneider said. "We have come a long way since the start of negotiations and I think we were further apart initially because we have a new district administration that is getting settled into their roles. We worked through a lot of our differences and collaborated on a contract we were able to agree to and now we are focused on doing what is best for our kids."

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