Teachers contract adopted, school levy next

Hood River County School District board will wait until June 13 to make decision on Local Option levy renewal

Continuing the existing Local Option tax levy will top the agenda at the next meeting of the Hood River County School District Board of Directors.

The board voted unanimously Wednesday to put renewal of the Local Option on the agenda as an action item for its June 13 meeting, 6 p.m. at the district office.

The board is poised to place the issue on the November General Election ballot for county voters to decide.

The decision was part of a wide-ranging agenda that also included Supt. Charlie Beck’s announcement that the district and the certified employees (teachers) had reached a contract agreement.

Regarding the contract for 2012-14, board chair Liz Whitmore and Beck praised those involved.

“Thanks go out to the teachers, the school board and the negotiating team. What a wonderful thing to have this completed,” Beck said. “We are very fortunate.”

Said Whitmore, “There were a lot of meetings, a lot of back-and-forth, and it is a big commitment to serve on a negotiating team.”

The contract includes a 2 percent salary increase in 2012-13 and 1.6 percent in 2013-14, according to Finance Director Nick Hogan.

According to Kelvin Calkins, HREA president, because of increases in employee contribution for health insurance, many HREA members will see no increase in take-home pay, and some will see a loss of actual income.

Beck called it “a fair and equitable contract.”

Beck told the board that the recent Strategic Planning process was a success, with extensive feedback at forums held at Mid Valley Elementary (60 parents in attendance), Wy’east Middle School (30), Hood River Middle School (30) and Cascade Locks (10).

The next step is to assign goal teams to report back to the school board after analyzing the community feedback by topic: facilities and operations (including food service) technology, curriculum, Community Education, communications and alternative options (such as alternative high schools, charter schools and magnet schools).

On the Local Option issue, the board had the option of taking action this week, but board member Jeff Kopecky suggested waiting one more meeting.

“No doubt the Local Option is needed, and the community has shown its support for keeping things the way they are, but this will give us the chance to hear some public input first,” Kopecky said. The board members agreed that a five-year, maximum $1.25 per thousand Local Option request in November would be the best option, and to wait until June 13 to formalize the ballot request.

The Local Option would sustain instructional and extracurricular programs, and control classroom sizes. It was originally approved in 2004 and renewed by voters in 2009. A renewed Local Option would take effect in 2014.

“What it purchases is staff and programs in the buildings,” Beck said.

The levy provides $1.7 million in local revenue and comes with a state match of about $600,000.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Beck reported that Bob Dais, director of human resources, would stay on through October, though he is scheduled to retire in June. The district has been unable to find a qualified replacement to lead the human resources department.

“We really appreciate Bob stepping up in this way,” Beck said. “My job is to find the best possible human resources director for the district, and Bob staying on gives us time to hire the right person.” If necessary, Beck said, the district will ask the Oregon School Boards Association to appoint an interim human resources director this fall, once Dais’ contract extension is finished.

“It seems people aren’t interested in directing school district human resources these days,” Beck said, referring to the high-profile labor disagreements at Oregon school districts, including the current teacher strike in neighboring Reynolds School District.

The board also watched the Oregon Battle of the Books team, four seventh-grade boys from Wy’east Middle School, demonstrate their book knowledge. The team took second at state, out of 159 teams. (See photo, page A3.)

Beck also announced the hiring of Penny Grotting to succeed Terri Vann as cirriculum and special programs director.

He said Grotting is well-qualified to continue the curriculum-integration process known as Professional Learning Communities, which started two years ago.

In Professional Learning Communities, teachers collaborate within grades or instruction areas, and then between age levels and disciplines, to develop instructional programs that complement the subject areas and help prepare the students for further study.

Beck said Vann “laid the foundation, established the teams and the structure of teachers getting together and talking together,” on a coordinated basis.

“Now we’re moving to the next level with the goal of clear definitions and expectations,” he said.

The board heard a report of a visit to La Grande School District by three district employees, who studied how La Grande has developed a successful PLC process.

HRVHS Principal Karen Neitzel, Wy’east Principal Catherine Dalbey and district math coach Jane Osborne said their observations in La Grande will help prepare HRCSD teachers and administrators for taking the PLC process to the next level in 2012-13.

Board member James Sims, who has also spent time in La Grande, said that while Hood River has better individual PLCs, La Grande has a stronger support system for the programs.

“We have to support the finances to train our administrators to carry this work forth,” Sims said. “La Grande does not have a lot of resources but they spend it on what they believe in — the education of children.”

Beck said that to advance the PLC process, “we’re going to have to bring the school board along with us on the journey this summer.” Board members agreed that better information and communication is needed for the community to understand the need for the series of late-start Mondays, needed to provide staff with time to develop building PLCs. Late-start Mondays were incorporated by the board into the 2012-13 school schedule.

Board member Jan Veldhuisen Virk asked Beck to provide the board with talking points in order to answer questions about what the district is doing on PLCs and how it affects students.

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