After 13 months at the bargaining table, employees from the Eagle Point School District have declared an impasse and are warning the administration they may go on strike.
After another failed mediation session March 26, the Eagle Point Education Association, the union that represents both teachers and classified staff, announced that negotiations had reached a standstill.
"We have hopes that it can be resolved," said David Sours, chairman of the bargaining support team. "No one wants to strike. It's been very hard."
Once an impasse was declared, the employees and district had seven days — until today — to polish up a final contract offer.
"Now that we are in impasse, we are in an organizing mode," said Sours, a teacher at White Mountain Middle School who hopes the district will be open to informally discussing the contract over the next month.
The offer must be accompanied by an easy-to-understand cost summary and will be reviewed during a required 30-day "cooling off" period for the bargaining teams.
"It's going to take a willingness on both sides," said Scott Whitman, district business manager.
If no agreement is reached by May 4, the district can choose to implement a contract without further negotiation, and the employees have the option to go on strike.
Whitman said the situation is similar to what happened in the Medford School District last fall, when failed negotiations led to the administration implementing a contract for classified employees.
Should employees decide to go on strike next month, they must give the district a 10-day notice of their intent, giving the administration time to come up with a backup plan.
Whitman said this could lead to problems transporting children to school and may include the use of many substitute teachers.
"It is very possible that a strike would happen," said Sours. "There are some major differences between the two sides."
Whitman and Sours hope the bargaining teams can reach an agreement before a strike happens.
In 2009, the last time employees and the district settled on a contract, employees voted in favor of striking, but reached a settlement during an all-night bargaining session instead.
"They had the threat of a strike out there," said Whitman, who wasn't at the bargaining table at the time.
Bargaining teams on both ends of negotiations say that a variety of contract issues are still on the table, including employee salary increases, teacher prep time and the possibility of subcontracting out transportation services.
In an employee newsletter sent out Monday, members of the bargaining team acknowledged that the district had made some concessions in its proposal over the past year, but that the union couldn't make any more movement in the district's direction.
Union members also said they were worried that the district may subcontract transportation and janitorial services beginning with the 2013-14 school year, and the current contract offers no protection for these employees.
"The language of the district leaves open an option to subcontract," said Sours. "We're concerned about that."
In an email to district staff last week, Superintendent Cynda Rickert said the union's declaration of an impasse was upsetting.
"The union's action is extremely disappointing, but not unexpected," said Rickert, who expressed concern the union didn't fully consider the district's last proposal, which included a wage increase over the next three years costing roughly $1.4 million, and a $400 signing bonus for each employee.
Rickert said the union has spent months asking the district to agree to unaffordable raises and insurance increases, and to generate the money for the increases by cutting school days or laying off staff.
Both sides are able to continue negotiating if they choose to during the 30-day cooling-off period.
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.