The Eagle Point School District stood on the precipice of a strike late Monday, with no contract settlement in sight and employees preparing to picket district buildings and formally begin their strike this morning.
There will be no school today in the district, but school administrators say they will have enough substitutes available to resume classes Wednesday.
Bargaining teams for both sides began their last scheduled mediation session at 1 p.m. Monday, with a number of contract articles still undecided after 14 months of negotiations.
"We're going to work as hard as we can," said Mike Remick, district human resources director, before heading into bargaining Monday afternoon. "But everyone is preparing for the worst-case scenario."
As the deadline neared, both sides ratcheted up the heat.
District administration lodged an unfair labor practice complaint against the Eagle Point Education Association Friday, alleging the employee union broke its contract by using the district's email system to make strike preparations.
The district lodged the claim with the Oregon Employee Relations Board almost two weeks after the EPEA lodged its own complaint against the district, alleging that administrators had harassed employees about whether they intend to strike.
On Monday, the employee union revised its claim, adding that district administrators have informally polled employees of their intent to strike, and claiming that the administration was harassing potential substitute teachers, threatening to cut their ties with the district should they refuse to substitute during the strike.
Remick said the claim that the administration had polled employees of their intent to strike was false, and the administration had no idea which employees had strike intentions.
Remick said the district had followed a strict practice of not talking with employees about the strike.
"If there's a strike, we'll know then who is participating," said Remick. "This is very upsetting to us."
Remick also said the district had identified more than enough substitute employees to work should a strike happen.
The Oregon Employment Relations Board acknowledged receipt of the two complaints, and has assigned them to administrative law judges, but no timeline is set for a decision.
Administration asked teachers to collect their personal belongings from classrooms Monday and to turn in to the district property such as keys and electronics.
"We really have no way of knowing how long we're going to be gone," said teacher Adrienne Dunkin after packing several plastic containers of belongings into her car.
Before leaving, teachers were asked to provide 10 days of lesson plans, five days more than they are expected to have ready normally.
Dunkin, who has taught special education at Eagle Point High School for seven years, said she was prepared to go on strike starting today, and believed most teachers would do the same.
"Teachers are being very determined," said Dunkin. "I'm not aware of anyone that's opposed to the strike."
Dunkin said she worked for the district during the last round of contract negotiations, when employees voted to strike, but said the administration seems less willing to bargain this time around.
"I tend to think this is a pattern of intimidation," said Dunkin.
When the district bargained with employees for a new contract in 2009, employees voted to strike, but a last-minute contract was settled during an all-night bargaining session.
After a special School Board meeting last Wednesday, the administration announced plans to cancel classes Monday and today, giving them extra time to prepare for the strike.
Because the district has a full calendar with two weather-related closure days built into it, closing school early this week will not affect student' ability to complete coursework.
Remick said enough substitute teachers had been secured to keep schools open Wednesday, but that the setup of classrooms is "not going to look the same."
The board also approved an administration request last week to consolidate school operations into fewer campuses than usual if necessary.
Remick said the hope is to have the least impact on students, and keep classroom work going despite the work-stoppage. But some teachers think this week will be hard on students.
"Friday was one of the hardest days in my teaching career," said Dave Carrell, EPEA president and a math teacher at White Mountain Middle School. "The students were emotional, but supportive."
Carrell said he packed up his classroom over the weekend, and noted the administration had asked him to not return to school until a settlement was reached or the strike ended.
Carrell planned to organize pickets today at some district buildings, and outside of schools if they reopen Wednesday.
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.