As if a chiropractor had aligned the backs of Knappa School District, the school board meeting Monday was far less tense as the board adopted a final contract for teachers.

As the board passed the contract 4-1, the pressure could almost be heard squeaking out of the library. Or maybe it was cheers for the girl's softball team playing Warrenton in the adjacent field.

"I think it's a pretty fair contract," Knappa High School science teacher Vannette West said. "We were happy. We didn't think it was going to quite come out that good."

Board member Ben Bartlett voted against the contract because he said the economic strain on Oregon school districts in this tight budget year should limit the contract.

"What I hope is that we can work together for the kids ... because we are in a funding crisis," Bartlett said. "I'm glad that they came to an agreement. I'm glad that relationships have been restored. It was getting real divided."

The teacher's union, Knappa Education Association, voted unanimously to approve the contract, West said.

Teachers now will get a 2 percent salary increase over the next two years.

In 2002-03, the school district will pay the cost of an Oregon Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan that limits dental coverage and teachers can buy up to a plan with better dental coverage. Both plans have similar medical coverage. In 2003-04, the district will pay up to $739 toward insurance premiums for each teacher. If the insurance increases beyond 16 percent, teacher salary and benefits can be renegotiated.

Each year, teachers can enroll in a "Section 125" plan, which allows them to divert tax-exempt money from their pay checks toward their insurance premiums, business manager Judy Skirvin said.

"We really needed to get it behind us," said school board member Harold Weaver, who voted for the contract. "It was starting to tear us apart."

School board meetings have been packed with community members since April, when intense negotiations began.

The board has been officially negotiating the 2001-04 teacher contract since May 2001. Teachers agreed to continue working this year, although their salary and benefits had not be settled.

School leaders came to a tentative agreement regarding this year - the first year of the three-year contract at a previous negotiations session in April.

This year teachers' salaries increased 1.5 percent and the school district paid the full insurance costs.

"My reservations were, if we weren't careful, ... we might have to cut staff since Ballot Measure 13 failed," Weaver said.

Knappa, like most districts in Clatsop County, based its budget on Measure 13 allocating $220 million from a state endowment fund into a fund for Oregon schools.

With the measure's failure, Knappa is facing a $243,000 budget shortfall, Superintendent Rick Pass said.

The district is already considering cutting two staff members whose salaries are paid for by a state school-improvement fund, which will be discontinued next year, Pass said.

As teachers unveiled curriculum plans Monday for math, social studies, science, technology, language arts and health, some teachers wonder how the district will pay for the improvements.

"Next year we will again be teaching freshman from a middle-school text book," West said of her physical science class. "It's important that you get a good education in physical science because all sciences are based on that."

Pass said the money has been budgeted for the textbooks next year, but the unstable state funding makes everything liable for cuts.

"With the $870 million state deficit, we're not sure what's going to go," he said.

But as for now, the district will just have to wait and see what happens in the legislative session this month.

Tags