Originally published in The Nugget News, September 13, 2016
by: Steve Kadel

The Sisters School Board has voted unanimously to approve a new two-year contract for the district’s teachers.

The pact OK’d on Wednesday, September 7, includes a 1.5 percent cost-of-living salary increase this year and another 1.5 percent boost in 2017. The contract becomes effective this month.

“It’s a fair deal, given the (financial) circumstances,” said Shawn Swisher, attorney for the High Desert Education Service District, who helped in negotiations. “Hopefully this will see us through until the economic climate improves. It gives some labor stability for the next couple of years.”

The district’s cost to provide health insurance for certified employees will go up, following a trend in that direction. Business Manager Sherry Joseph said the district will pay about $35 more per employee in both contract years.

Board member Stephen King asked Swisher if the contract allows for flexibility such as increasing the number of school days each year or adjusting class sizes. Swisher replied that those changes would require negotiations to be re-opened.

King noted the district has long had a goal of being one of the best in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. He wondered aloud whether the new contract will prove too restricting, preventing changes that could provide better educational opportunities for students.

“That’s been our goal – to raise that bar,” King said. “How can we move in that direction with these constraints in place? I feel like we’re being a little locked in for two years.”

However, board chairman Jeff Smith said quality teaching is the foundation of good education. It’s more important than extra school days or more AP classes, he said.

King supported the contract when it came time to vote, despite indicating he would have preferred language to allow an expanded school year.

Superintendent Curt Scholl said financial limitations are a reality the district must live with for now.

“Our constraint really is what our budget is,” he said. “Our budget doesn’t support (more school days) at this point.”