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ESD employees get some good, bad news

Southern Oregon Education Service District employees will have a smaller number of furlough days next school year, an increase in insurance benefits and a small pay raise for employees with certain degrees and experience, according to a recently ratified labor contract.

Even as Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced that schools would not be affected by the state's latest drop of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, schools and education service districts are still living with scaled-back school years and work schedules and meager, if any, pay raises.

"We feel good about the negotiations," said ESD Superintendent Scott Perry. "The employees came a long way to meet us in terms of our situation in tough economic times."

Southern Oregon ESD's more than 100 teachers and administrators, who provide special services in schools in Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties, will have four furlough days this year, a decrease of two days from the previous year. However, they will receive an increase in the employer's contribution to health insurance: $63 more per month.

Teachers and administrators with up to 16 years' experience at the ESD also will receive a step increase in salary of three-fourths of 1 percent.

While that represents a token pay raise, it's dramatically lower than what teachers usually received before the recession, Perry said.

"In normal times, a step was kind of assumed," he said.

Last year, teachers took six furlough days but were given a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment. There will be no cost-of-living adjustment this year, said ESD business manager Howard George.

The new contract will cost about $240,000 more than last year, George said. The increase in cost doesn't mean an increase in spending, however, George said. That money will likely be shifted from another fund.

The ESD continues to bargain with its support staff on a contract. Negotiations are scheduled for Sept. 13.

The ESD spends about $12.4 million per year on salaries and $7.5 million on benefits, George said. The agency provides distance learning for teachers and students, teacher training and special education instruction, among other things.

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