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School district, union reach impasse

The Rogue River School District has formally declared an impasse in mediations with its teachers' union after 20 months of contentious negotiations.

"We've continued to work toward a solution and haven't been able to reach it," said Rogue River schools Superintendent Harry Vanikiotis.

The declaration opens up the possibility of a strike by the 56 teachers in the union after a 30-day cooling off period required by law. Before that, the two parties have to conduct and swap cost analyses for their latest proposals.

Bargaining began June 19, 2008, and no agreement has been reached. Vanikiotis said this is the longest period of union negotiations he's experienced in his 25 years as a school administrator, but there is still hope that the two parties could ink an agreement during the cooling off period.

The district's offer has remained unchanged since January.

"The (School) Board continues to stand by its proposal," said School Board Chair Trayce Geddes in a statement. "We have considered all of the rationale and information presented by the union. None of it changes the fact that district resources continue to be hit by the impacts of fewer students each year, cuts in state funding and the national economic crisis."

The district's final three-year offer includes a retroactive salary increase of 3.35 percent for teachers eligible for a step in 2008-2009 and a retroactive 3.35 percent step increase for all teachers in 2009-2010 and in 2010-2011, regardless of whether they would ordinarily be eligible for a step.

It also includes an annual insurance contribution of $9,504 for each teacher in 2008-2009, $10,704 in 2009-2010 and $11,304 in 2010-2011.

The union is asking for a 5.35 percent raise for all teachers in 2008-2009, a 4.85 percent raise in 2009-2010 and a 4.85 percent raise in 2010-2011.

Union representatives said the district's offer doesn't represent a cost-of-living raise but rather an ordinary step increase agreed to in all employment contracts for teachers with certain amounts of experience and education.

Teachers union President Todd Rose said Geddes has "misrepresented a step as a raise."

"The teachers are pretty frustrated," he said.

Geddes said the union has refused to acknowledge that a step is a raise.

"Anyone else in our community whose paycheck goes up would call it a raise; so do we," she said. "People who are struggling to make ends meet in this economy may find it especially difficult to understand the union's position."

But Rose said the district is using the economy as "an excuse" not to give teachers a proper salary increase.

"At this point, we are quickly heading toward strike and other unfortunate actions due to the board's inability to spend their immense cash carryover," said union Vice President Bryan Debolt.

Debolt said the union is asking the district to spend a "trifling" portion of their carryover funds for raises. The union also has asked the district to upgrade aging computer systems, bring back more secondary electives and upgrade school buildings.

Rose said he hopes to avoid a strike, which could spoil activities planned for high school graduation.

In November, the union filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the district for allegedly scaling back salary proposals and raising new issues in mediation, which, the union says, violates the law. The Employment Relations Board has not yet ruled on the complaint, Rose said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.