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Strike effects linger in Eagle Point

A three-year member of the Eagle Point School Board is being asked to resign from his position following accusations by other board members that he participated in last month's employee strike and has consistently opposed the administration.

According to board Chairman Scott Grissom, member Mark Bateman violated board policy by publicly protesting with striking union members in May.

An informational statement on the board agenda says that Bateman had a "desire to advance union causes" rather than support what was best for the district.

Bateman denies the accusations.

"At no time did I pick up a sign and picket with employees," said Bateman, a backflow service technician from Eagle Point. "The first I heard of this was reading it in the board packet."

Grissom will read a recommendation that he and the three other board members support Bateman's resignation at tonight's school board meeting.

During the employee strike last month, Bateman said he stood under a gazebo at Centennial Plaza, an informal meeting place for strikers, and talked with some of the people there.

The eight-day strike of more than 250 union members began on May 7 and was the largest in Oregon since 1987.

Bateman said he remembers having no specific dialogue about the strike or contract negotiations, and said he didn't share any opinions in favor of or against the strike.

Bateman said he was "very surprised" to hear that talking with employees on strike would translate into a violation of board policy, especially considering two other board members attended a public forum put on by the employee union during the strike.

Bateman said district administration never mentioned anything to him about his behavior until it showed up on the agenda released Friday.

"I'm not sure where it came from, or why it materialized," said Bateman, who believed that when he isn't in the boardroom with the rest of the board, he should be considered just a community member.

When Bateman first ran for a board position in 2007, he said he was unhappy about a recent pay raise for administrators.

While he lost that election, Bateman won a four-year seat on the board in 2009.

The resignation recommendation says that Bateman has consistently voted against administration, and has been "challenging the district" throughout his term.

Bateman's consistent votes against administration's wishes have often been mirrored by board member Jim Mannenbach, while the remaining three board members have repeatedly voted in favor of district recommendations.

The three votes of approval by Grissom, Mary Ann Olsen and Ted Dole led to the closing of Elk Trail School earlier this year and the same three votes gave Superintendent Cynda Rickert authorization to spend district funds for strike-related costs — including ramped up security, substitute teachers and renting a parking lot near the district to limit the actions of striking employees.

The predictable votes of the three members have led some parents and community members to suggest that those board members are too closely aligned with the administration.

Parent Beckie Figueroa started a petition to recall Grissom, Olsen and Dole even before the strike began, and said she now has hundreds of signatures, nearly enough for the recall to be put to a districtwide vote.

"The recall is going smoothly and it's going to happen," said Figueroa, who said she would be at tonight's meeting in support of Bateman, convinced the administration's actions are bordering on censoring free speech.

While Bateman acknowledged that many 3-2 votes have taken place this year, he insisted that each vote he makes is his own careful decision.

Bateman's suggested resignation will be the last of 17 items on the board meeting agenda tonight.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the district office board room, 11 N. Royal Ave., Eagle Point.

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