Wallowa teachers want to restructure 'non-student' timeAfter four meetings, contract negotiations for the Wallowa School District have "slowed down considerably," said Ed Jensen, who is representing the district.

"Right now negotiations really center around non-kid days," Superintendent John Nesemann told the school board at Monday night's meeting.

Teachers are specifically concerned with the number of Fridays they are asked to work when students are not present, said the Wallowa Education Association members who are representing the teachers in negotiations. Since the transition to a four-day week, several Fridays a year have been set aside for teacher inservice, grading, staff development, staff meetings and time for struggling students to get extra help.

Probably 1 percent of the Friday time that is available is actually utilized by the students, the teachers' representatives said. Very few parents ever take advantage of Friday hours either.

"We're not asking to work less. We're asking to rearrange our work schedule to meet the needs of the kids and the community better," said teacher representative Kathy Willett.

What they are asking for is a slightly longer work day on Monday through Thursday as a tradeoff for fewer non-student Fridays. According to the WEA representatives, teachers are already putting in longer hours in the four-day week than they are required to by their contract. The decision to move to a four-day week happened mid-contract, they said, and though the students' day was lengthened, their contract was not amended.

"In theory we didn't amend the teacher day. In practice, of course, we did because the kids were here," Willett said.

Currently, the building is open at 7:35 a.m. and students leave around 3:30 p.m. The teachers would like their work hours to be from 7:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. That would give them 20 minutes in the morning before students arrive and about a half hour after students get out. The WEA representatives said they thought students would utilize the afternoon time better than they have used the Friday hours.

The WEA representatives said this year they have been scheduled to work 16 non-student Fridays. There are fifteen non-student Fridays scheduled in next year's calendar, which was approved on Monday by the school board under the assumption that it would be amended if required by contract negotiations.

"It's not that we don't want any Fridays," said WEA representative Jennifer Gibbs. Rather, they are asking for "an adequate amount of Friday time," for parent-teacher conferences and staff development. They would like their non-student Fridays cut by nine or 10 days, Willett and Gibbs said.

The teachers said they are not trying to change their contract right now with regard to insurance or the percentage increases in salaries. "You don't want to ever go backward with a contract negotiation. You want to either stay the same or move forward. We're asking to stay the same," said WEA representative Keith Wellens, with regard to insurance and salary.

However, the district would like some changes with regard to insurance. "The district, number one, wants to ... stabilize the (insurance) cap so we know what it is every year," Jensen said. Currently, he said, the district pays a base amount of $300 a month for insurance for each full-time employee, and splits the cost over that amount 50-50 with the employee. The open-ended cap means the district can't accurately budget for insurance costs, he said.

Currently the total insurance package costs $9,822. The district pays $8,367 of that amount.

Jensen would also like to amend the current situation in which a husband and wife employed by the district both receive insurance packages at a cost of $16,735 to the district. The two packages provide some advantages, but, Jensen said, "They don't get the benefit for the cost."

Jensen said that salary issues were not so contentious. "Actually, I think the two parties are pretty close (on salary)," he said.

The calendar issue remains the primary stumbling block for both sides. "We are a long, long ways away from each other on the calendar issue," Jensen said. "Those (non-student Fridays) do serve staff development and they do serve the district in providing the education the community needs," Jensen said. He noted that it is not practical to hold staff meetings after a full day during the four day week.

"We don't see that giving up those days is going to improve the quality of education in Wallowa," Jensen said.

Differences aside, Willett said, "We are looking forward to a satisfactory agreement for all parties and are looking for that common ground."

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