Teacher strike appears imminent

Eagle Point schools planning to hire subs if teachers strike
Eagle point High School sophomores from the left, Amanda Jenshus, Cora Tree and Kylee Kady support their teacher's position in negotiations between the Eagle Point School District and union leaders but don't see much hope for the rest of the school year if there is a strike. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photoBob Pennell

Eagle Point School District administrators plan to hire substitute teachers so students can continue to attend classes and remain on track to graduate in the event of an employee strike.

In an ad placed online, the district suggested that its schools may run two shifts per day to cover all its classes.

"Assuming a worst-case scenario does happen, we need to be prepared," Scott Whitman, district business manager said Wednesday.

Superintendent Cynda Rickert received permission from the School Board Wednesday to hire and transport substitute teachers should a strike occur, and to offer an incentive of extra-duty pay to employees who choose not to strike.

The district on Tuesday placed an ad on the online website Craigslist seeking "emergency guest teachers."

The posting reads in part: "The District will pay emergency substitute teachers a substitute wage of $165 for approximately a five hour shift with a potential to teach a second shift for a total of $330 per day."

Employees announced last week their intention to strike at 6 a.m. Tuesday, May 8, although one more bargaining session on May 7 could lead to a settlement of the contract.

"For now, schools are open and all programs are operating normally," said Rickert, in an email to staff after another failed bargaining session Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile, students at Eagle Point High School have heard discussions about the negotiations, and many say they support the teachers' right to strike.

"It takes a lot for the teachers to go on strike, and they've decided it's what they need to do," said Cora Tree, a sophomore.

Tree said that students hear minimal information from employees about the strike but know that school may be filled with substitutes next Tuesday. That, she said, is a prospect they aren't excited about.

"There's so much that happens in just one day," said Tree. "There's really no point in coming in if it's just a bunch of substitutes."

During a special board meeting Wednesday evening, Rickert declared the district and the public were in a "state of emergency" because of the approaching strike, and asked for authorization to spend unbudgeted district funds to pay for strike-related expenses.

While employees and the administration say that students are the most important thing to keep in mind as they proceed with negotiations, those same students may be left without regular teachers and other employees in classrooms with only five weeks to go before summer.

But Whitman said the district hopes to keep students on track with their studies.

"It is our commitment that graduation will still happen," said Whitman, adding that students who have additional coursework to complete before school ends will be given the opportunity to complete it, regardless of a strike.

Senior project presentations are set to start Friday at Eagle Point High School.

"It's definitely something we plan to make sure still happens," said Whitman, who noted that many classes are also taking mid-term exams around this time in the term.

Sophomore Kylee Kady said some of her teachers have laid out plans for the next couple of weeks to help keep students on track should the strike happen, something she is thankful for.

"I don't think the district realizes how much we support the teachers," said Kady. "A substitute isn't going to understand how I learn things."

Eagle Point parent Aleatha Isaacs said if the strike occurs and the district brings in substitutes, she'll keep her two students home. One attends White Mountain Middle School and the other goes to Eagle Point High School.

"I'm not going to let them go through the chaos of substitutes," said Isaacs, who joined pickets during an Eagle Point Education Association rally Tuesday afternoon. "I'll pull them out, and at least a half-dozen of my friends will do the same."

Isaacs held a sign during the rally that read "Support the teachers, pull your kids too."

Employees say they are still struggling to see eye-to-eye with the district surrounding the issue of rescheduling teacher prep time, and are worried about the possibility of the district subcontracting out transportation jobs as early as the 2013-14 school year.

Administrators say the district has offered wage increases and increased payments for medical insurance for full-time employees. But they say laying off teachers or cutting school days would be necessary to meet union demands for such things as higher compensation and full insurance coverage for part-time employees.

The two sides bargained for 13 months before reaching an impasse in late March, which commenced a 30-day cooling off period.

The district has the right to implement whichever contract proposal it deems best as soon as Friday, which marks the end of the cooling-off period.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.



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