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Deal slashes school days.

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

Students would lose six school days and teachers a chunk from their paychecks under a tentative deal struck early Thursday morning between the Eugene School District and its teachers' union.

The three-year agreement trims seven days from teachers' base 192-day contract in 2010-11, six of them instructional days and one devoted to planning and training.

It provides a 1 percent cost-of-living increase, a $65 increase in the monthly insurance contribution, and half of the usual 3.7 percent, experience-based "step" increase in the first year. In subsequent years, all monetary items would be up for negotiation, when the district's financial picture is clearer.

Teachers and district administrators plan to map out in the next week or so which school days would be cut, but it's likely that most would fall near the end of the year. Up to five days could be restored to the contract should Oregon see an uptick in revenue - a scenario budget planners believe is unlikely.

Teachers next year will be paid for working 185 days. The agreement reduces what the district is spending on teacher compensation this year by about $500,000, said Susan Fahey, chief financial officer.

Assistant Superintendent Carl Hermanns said he hadn't yet delved into the question of whether the lost days will push Eugene below the threshold for mandatory instructional hours, but he believes they will. Should Eugene fall short, it will have to notify the Oregon Department of Education and explain how it plans to get back into compliance the following year. There would be no penalties for falling below the threshold, however.

Forced to slash planned spending just as they were putting budgets to bed, districts across the state are considering cutting school days, said Tanya Gross, communications associate executive director for the Oregon School Boards Association.

In Springfield, the school district reached a tentative agreement on concessions with all employee groups on Wednesday, just three weeks after ratifying a one-year successor contract with teachers. Brett Yancey, business operations director, said details won't be released until Monday, after employees and the school board have ratified agreements. He described it as a combination of furlough days and other cuts to compensation.

"It's very likely there will be some lost school days" for students, he said.

In the Bethel district in west Eugene, Superintendent Colt Gill is continuing talks with employee groups about concessions, spokesman Pat McGillivray said. The district is looking at all cost-cutting options, including cutting school days, he said.

Though the Eugene district's pact forestalls additional staffing cuts, it falls drastically short of what teachers had hoped for, said Paul Duchin and Merri Steele, co-presidents of the Eugene Education Association - especially coming on the heels of an agreed-upon, seven-day cut to their contract in the current year.

But those hopes withered with Gov. Ted Kulongoski's announcement late last month that Oregon faces an unanticipated $577 million shortfall in tax revenue in the remainder of the 2009-11 biennium. He ordered state agencies and school districts to come up with spending reductions tot-aling 9 percent - for Eugene, about $6.8 million. That came on top of an additional $8.4 million in already-planned reductions for 2010-11.

Christine Nesbit, the Eugene district's associate director of human resources and lead negotiator, said the state's fiscal crisis placed the district in an untenable position.

"It's just extremely difficult for the organization to absorb (the additional deficit), but particularly at the 11th hour," she said. "So I think we all worked really hard, and this is an indication of the heart and strength of EEA leadership and teachers that we were able to get to this place."

Meetings are set with the district's classified employee union and its administrators' association within the next several days to discuss revising terms of their existing agreements, she said, with an eye to securing comparable, across-the-board concessions.

Set for ratification by teachers on Tuesday and the school board on Wednesday, the pact is a comedown from the three-year contract signed in 2007. That agreement added seven days to what was then a 191-day contract; all were set aside for either planning time or training. Nesbit said she'd heard of no other contract in the state with so many paid days.

The EEA's Steele said the bargaining room was silent after the two sides reached accord in public session, at about 1:15 a.m. Thursday. Besides members of the bargaining team, about a half-dozen teachers from an earlier crowd of several dozen stayed until the end.

"It's just terrible to go backward like this," Duchin told the crowd earlier in the evening, when it was already clear that whatever nominal gains would be made with salaries would be wiped out by slashing days from the calendar. "I never thought we'd be in this position. ... It's just personally really difficult."

Duchin is retiring this year after 12 years leading the EEA; Steele is retiring after four years as co-president.
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Title Annotation:Education; The six-day reduction could violate the state's threshold for class hours; other districts consider similar measures
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 11, 2010
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