Schools in the Eagle Point School District reopened for students Monday with substitute employees taking over classes, while the majority of teachers and classified staff remained on strike, picketing just outside school grounds.
Bargaining teams for the district and employee union plan to meet at 9 this morning with the hope of settling a contract, more than 14 months after negotiations began and a week after union workers walked off the job.
Teachers outside Eagle Point High School Monday waved and greeted students as they walked onto campus, while many kids stopped to express support for the striking employees.
"I love my teachers, and without them I can't learn," said Patrick Sather, a freshman, on his way to class.
District administration officials said last week that at least 50 union members chose not to go on strike, and that bringing in substitute employees would allow classes to resume after a week hiatus.
Just before 7 a.m., two charter buses full of substitutes arrived at the high school closely followed by three law enforcement vehicles.
Students will continue to attend a half-day of classes today, with high school students attending four classes in the morning, and middle school students receiving core classes in the afternoon, all at Eagle Point High School.
Elementary school students also are receiving half-day instruction in reading and math at either Hillside or White City Elementary or at Shady Cove School.
Almost 900 students were missing from the district's morning session, which should have had just over 2,200 students.
A dozen more students walked off school grounds just after classes began, saying the chaotic environment without their teachers made them want to leave.
"We're in there with subs that aren't going to teach us anything," said Miranda Pruett, 17, who left campus after seeing her schedule for the day, which she said didn't line up with her current courses.
Pruett said she was assigned to a science class, a subject she wasn't enrolled in this year, an Algebra 2 class she had already completed and a general social studies class, instead of the advanced placement course she has been taking.
"It's not personalized to me," said Pruett, a junior, who said she wouldn't be attending classes Monday.
By midmorning, several more students were reported to have left campus.
Students who left school without permission will be given unexcused absences and reprimanded as though it were a regular school day, according to district Human Resources Director Mike Remick.
Remick said he could understand that high school students often are upset when seeing a new schedule, but said that overall, schools were running smoothly.
Teachers picketing outside the high school weren't so sure.
"It's very sad," said Megan Williamson, a Spanish teacher. "We would rather be in there with our students."
Williamson said she is concerned that students who need elective courses such as Spanish to graduate will be put in jeopardy.
"I'm wondering how they're planning on giving credit," said Williamson. "A huge part of the grade is based on the final exam, and I know they're not teaching Spanish."
Remick said that if the strike doesn't end, student grades from elective courses will be assessed based on how much work they had already completed, though he hopes the strike does end and classes resume as usual.
Williamson said even if the contract were settled today, tension is high between the administration and students, and bridges already may have been burned.
"The trust has been broken," said Williamson. "I feel like they have not been bargaining in good faith."
During the last negotiation session Thursday, bargaining teams tentatively agreed to the issue of subcontracting services during the period of the contract, but articles of pro-rated insurance for part-time employees and whether the district can have control of teacher prep time remained unsolved.
Some employees believe the district is not settling on a contract in an attempt to bust the union.
"If they were negotiating in good faith, we wouldn't be here," said Karen Blaettler, an eighth-grade science teacher at White Mountain Middle School.
Blaettler said she's heard the district isn't stepping forward with compromises at the bargaining table, and she suspects administrators have worked with Nancy Hungerford, an Oregon City labor lawyer who wrote "School District Options in a Time of Financial Crisis," a 12-page paper offering suggestions to the school administration when bargaining new contracts.
Hungerford represented the district in 2009 when the union filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the administration.
The paper suggests moving teacher prep time outside of the student-contact day, as the Eagle Point administration has proposed, and also suggests contracting out district work and reducing the hours of part-time employees, two things employees have repeatedly said they worry the district will do.
"You read about strikes, and you learn about strikes, but I never thought I'd be here," said Blaettler.
Representatives from the employee union say the contract must be settled before they will end the strike.
"All strikes end, and they're going to inherit a pretty angry group when this is all over," said Tom Lipski, an Eagle Point Middle School teacher and one of the union's picket captains.
Lipski said while the district portrays the striking employees as aggressive and intimidating, he believes the union is acting appropriately.
"We're upset about the contract, but we're not an angry mob," said Lipski, who teaches social studies.
District administration said on Saturday that several parents were reportedly contacted by teachers at home, who warned them not to send their students to school because the experience would be bad.
"We're teachers, we're not Teamsters," said Lipski, who said union leaders asked teachers not to impede students from going to school, but instead to smile and wave as they walked and drove onto campus Monday.
Lipski said he and other teachers were surprised that failed bargaining went on so long that a strike had to take place, and doesn't understand how the district can justify spending so much money on things such as security guards and transporting and housing subs from out of the area.
"I'm a little shocked," said Lipski. "The district is spending tons of money they said they don't have."
Because the district isn't responsible for paying employees who are on strike, the district is able to recoup a lot of its costs for substitutes and security, according to Remick.
Remick said the district isn't keeping a running total of strike-related costs, but the administration feels the expenses are necessary.
"It's OK because we don't have a choice," said Remick.
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or email@example.com.