EPEA surprises District 9, declares impasse

Thursday, Feb. 19, the Eagle Point Education Association declared an impasse in negotiations. The Independent received the EPEA Bargaining Update (not from the union) announcing the impasse. In their message, they said, “This round of bargaining is reflective of the atmosphere of distrust and unnecessary power struggle with JCSD #9. In these economic times, we should be working together to create more harmonious working conditions and solutions. Instead, the District is using the economy as a weapon. In recent proposals, they insist on regressive bargaining by inserting a devastating funding formula that will, in all probability, take away steps, salary and insurance increases for two years.

“In addition, the district refuses to agree on language that costs no money, but would provide the respect our members deserve. For these reasons, your team has gone to impasse.”

When impasse is declared, both parties have seven days to provide costs for their final proposal. There is a 30 day cooling off period. Parties can continue to negotiate and, in fact, another session is scheduled Mar. 4. Impasse does not automatically mean a strike. But if agreements is not reached by the end of the process, that could be the result.

The following letter was sent to staff by Supt. Cynda Rickert on Friday morning, Feb. 20:   
Dear Colleagues,   
I am very disappointed that the union leadership has abandoned the bargaining process and declared an impasse. Given the troubles in the economy and the funding challenges confronting our school system, this action defies explanation.

The School Board has authorized a contract offer that is very good for employees. It could provide salary increases of up to 20 percent over three years and pay up to $11,736 per employee for health insurance.

Increases in both areas are guaranteed for 2008-09 and will continue in the second and third years if funding levels are adequate. If funding levels fall, then we will reopen negotiations for the second and third years. But in no case will current contract salaries and benefits be reduced.

Our offer also will make it possible for schools to meet state requirements for instructional time and make it easier for parents to meet with teachers. The union leadership opposes both of these changes, even though they will directly benefit students and families.
Simply put, our offer recognizes the hard work of our employees but also honors our obligation to protect the public’s investment in our school system. I believe our employees share both of these commitments and will support legitimate efforts to reach a new agreement.

What happens now is dictated by state labor law. Both teams will bring their final offers, with cost summaries, to a mediator, who will publish them. We will then enter a 30-day cooling off period during which time the two sides can mutually agree on a contract or ask a fact-finder to make a recommendation to them. After that, the school district has the right to impose its final offer and the union has the right to strike.

Let me be clear about this: our school district will never turn its back on the students of this community. Whatever our differences with the union leadership, we will do everything in our power to live up to our responsibilities as educators.

Our bargaining team has put in hundreds of hours in an effort to address the needs of employees with a new contract. We are willing to put in as many more hours as it will take to reach an agreement. We hope the union leadership will reconsider its confrontational approach and work with us to settle the contract.
Respectfully,Cynda Rickert
Superintendent
Jackson County School District 9

The following was a response received Friday, Feb. 20, from Mike Curtis, a bargaining team member and high school teacher:

Dear Mrs. Rickert,

In response to your recent email, we have the following observations:

1) We have not abandoned the bargaining process. Impasse is very clearly another step in that process. It leaves our options open for more drastic measures if they appear to be needed. We hope they are not needed.  We can continue to bargain, and would welcome that. You don’t have to impose your last offer, and we don’t have to strike. But, our options or open and our hands are not tied.

2) You stated that the District will pay $11,736 per employee in insurance costs. This is inaccurate.   It’s close during the first year, but you have offered to cover only one employee in situations where two employees are married or are domestic partners. So technically, it is inaccurate. But our main concern is the second and third years of your offer. In the second and third years of your offer, our costs would soar.  Many of our members hold their jobs because of the insurance benefits. Taking what could be over $200 a month out of their paychecks might be easier at an administrative salary, but it is not for many of our employees.

3) Your email states that our salary and benefits will not be reduced. Your offer says that if the funding formula you have proposed is not reached, the funding clauses in the contract will be null and void and new negotiations will begin.  Anything can happen in those new negotiations. Also, a clause in our current contract allows you to close school and reduce or salary and benefits when ever you decide. In fact, you are considering that very thing right now.   That will in fact reduce our salary!

4) Our proposal clearly states the need for the High School to comply with state law regarding the number of minutes we attend by adding 22 minutes to each school day and teaching all day on our current early release Wednesday.  We got our figures from an email provided by your lawyer, Lisa. We offered to meet state standards and you rejected it. Also, we clearly stated the need for teachers to attend conferences and I.E.P. meetings.  We are attempting to limit the number of them that occur outside of the normal workday. Every day at 3:00 o’clock – NO PROBLEM. But if they continue to be scheduled at 5:00 O’clock? We are attempting to limit those “outside the normal workday” to two per month. 

5) You stated that you honor the hard work of the employees, but your over all proposal has various clauses in it that prove otherwise. We have tried to explain our concerns about how we are being treated and our concerns fall on deaf ears.  We are professionals and want to be treated as such. 

6) Your email stated, “Our school district will never turn it’s back on the students of this community.” Are you insinuating that somehow the Association, or the bargaining team is?  What in the world have we done that could possibly cause you to make such a statement. In spite of the long hours we meet at the bargaining table, our team members have been back at work every the next day doing what we love to do.

Our Bargaining team has also put untold hours (unpaid hours, I might add) into this task. We are still willing to meet and solve our differences. You don’t have to “impose”. We don’t have to strike.

If I have misstated or overstated any of our positions, I promise it is not intentional and I beg you to forgive me. If I have understated our positions on these issues, I beg my colleagues to forgive me.

Respectfully, Mike Curtis

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