Eagle Point schools, union agree to new 3-year contract

The Eagle Point School District apparently will have no repeat anytime soon of its acrimonious strike of 2012 after the district and its employee union on Friday announced a tentative accord on a new three-year contract.

Cost savings in recent years and added money from the state will allow the district to provide increases in employee pay and insurance benefits.

Teachers and other certified employees with the Eagle Point Education Association will receive a 2 percent increase in their salaries in each of the three years. Eligible employees also will receive experience step increases of 3.4 percent per year, he said.

Classified employees will receive an 8 percent increase in their salary over three years, with 4 percent in 2014-2015 and 2 percent in each of the next two years.

Eligible employees also will receive step increases of approximately 4.7 percent per year.

"This brings the classified employees into a competitive range with surrounding districts in the Rogue Valley," said Allen Barber, the district's human resources director.

The district will increase by $25 per month its monthly insurance contribution for each association member's health insurance in each of the three years of the agreement. In the final year of the contract, 2016-2017, the district will be contributing up to $1,093 per month toward the cost of each member's insurance, Barber said.

Superintendent Cynda Rickert said the district was able to make the offer to its employees in part because of money added back into the budget by the state and also because of "some really tough decisions" made in leaner years.

Because the district previously opted to cut its budget, but not teaching days, the extra money from the state can now be applied to employee salaries and benefits, rather than to restoring those days, Rickert said.

The district presented its "best proposal" to the association, which in turn presented the general details to its members this week. Those members voiced strong support for its approval, district officials and union members said.

Employees are scheduled to take a formal ratification vote on Dec. 11. The board will meet shortly thereafter to hold its ratification vote, Barber said.

"We're very excited to have a settlement, and to be moving forward in our whole district," said Debbie Brudevold, a math teacher at Eagle Point Middle School.

Both parties agreed to take a new approach to collective bargaining, "so no formal bargaining process was necessary," Barber said.

The less-formal discussions were an effort to avoid a repeat of last year's sometimes bitter negotiations that preceded an eight-day strike of more than 250 union members in May. The fallout of the strike led to teacher resignations, demands for resignations among School Board members, threats of recall from community members and a federal lawsuit against the board and district officials alleging violations of free speech.

"None of us wanted to go back there," Rickert said.

Andrea Murdoch, a member of the bargaining team and a bookkeeper at Eagle Point High School, said the two teams met for about two weeks prior to the association's tentative agreement to accept the district's offer.

"They gave us great raises and we accepted," Murdoch said, adding that the offer will not be formally accepted until it is voted on by the entire membership.

The new agreement would take effect July 1, 2014. After ratification of the agreement, every bargaining unit member will receive a $150 bonus for working collaboratively and ratifying the agreement so quickly, Barber said.

He noted the employees and the district had worked through years of tough economic times. Now that the economy and the state's school funding have improved, it's time to "share jointly in the fruits of our labor," he said.

"Everybody is smiling and there are a lot of high-fives," Barber said. "The reparation is on. And it feels really good."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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