HR teachers’ union hints it might strike

By KIRBY NEUMANN-REA

News Editor

December 20, 2006

Most teachers in the Hood River County School District are prepared for something that has not happened in Hood River since 1978.

A teachers’ strike.

Kelvin Calkins, president of the Hood River Education Association, the union, told the board Dec. 13 that a strike was a possibility, as contract negotiations stretch into their sixth month.

Salary and language concerning PERS retirement account buyouts are two of the primary points of contention between the district and the teachers.

At the board meeting Calkins presented a petition signed by 269 of the 280 union members, reading, “We support and trust our bargaining team and will stand by whatever action they believe it is necessary to take.”

“I think you need to take that seriously,” Calkins told the board.

The two sides are negotiating a three-year contract; the previous two-year pact expired June 20, 2006. Negotiations began in June.

Calkins and District Superintendent Dr. Pat Evenson-Brady said the two sides are close to an agreement on salary, though the union has tied salary increases to Tax Shelter Annuity (TSA) payments by the board as part of the early retirement buyout clause of the contract proposal.

“TSA payment by district is historically counted as salary. They say they need an increase and a TSA,” Evenson-Brady said.

The third big issue is the question of contract language ensuring teachers have a say in where additional video surveillance cameras are placed.

“We’re trying to find a way to work through some of these issues,” Assistant Superintendent Connie Kennedy told the board Wednesday.

The board has proposed a policy to put cameras in public spaces, as well as shops, gyms athletic areas, and potentially libraries and cafeterias, some of which are at times used as classrooms. Cameras are currently in use at Hood River Valley High School, Hood River Middle School and Cascade Locks School.

“We’d consult with teachers before we put a camera in a classroom,” Evenson-Brady said.

“We have no intention of putting cameras in classrooms, but the first duty of district and board is to keep students safe and if a camera can play a role in that the board is not willing to give up the ability to do that,” Evenson-Brady said.

“What’s safer than a professional teacher in each classroom?” Calkins said Thursday. He said the union wants contractual assurance that the cameras won’t be used to assess teacher performance. Evenson-Brady stated that the board would adhere to current practice of using personal, in-room contact for teacher evaluation.

“We’re not at liberty to be negligent in letting a teacher say ‘Not in my classroom,’” Evenson-Brady said.

Cameras exist for safety and as part of the student discipline procedure, she said. Video footage of students would be considered part of the student record and made available only to those authorized by the superintendent.

Calkins told the board Wednesday, “I want to make sure the board understands how strained the negotiation situation is.”

Informal talks continue and the district and union have scheduled a second mediation session on Jan. 17. The first session, Nov. 27, went from 3:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

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