Eight months of talks result in pact; some educators still upsetSEASIDE -After eight months of negotiations, the Seaside School Board approved a two-year contract for its teaching staff Tuesday.

"It took longer then usual, but there were a lot of difficult issues that were discussed," said Seaside Superintendent Doug Dougherty.

The contract includes a 1.5 percent retroactive salary increase for 2003-04. Teachers will also get a cost-of-living increase in 2004-05, based on the Consumer Price Index for Portland.

One of the more controversial parts of the contract involves changes to the health care plan.

The agreement gives teachers two options for Blue Cross health care plans. One plan requires them to pay 5 percent of the costs, with the other less-comprehensive plan, the district covers 100 percent of costs. (Both plans still involve deductables.)

"One of the benefits to teaching was always the health benefits were good," said Dot Russell, the UniServ consultant who bargained on behalf of the teacher's union. "Those benefits are decreasing."

The contract also includes a plan to phase-out early retirements after 10 years. Employees hired after July 1, 2004 won't be eligible for that benefit.

"It's expensive," Dougherty said, explaining the district's decision to sunset the program. While school officials expect that ending early retirements will save the district money, no one knows how much that will be.

Additionally, the teachers and district agreed on a policy for cutting days if finances get tight. The district can cut up to 10 days if there is an actual budget shortfall.

Negotiations were unusual this year because both the district and teachers used hired guns. (The district hired Ron Wilson of the Oregon School Boards Association.)

"They've always negotiated face to face without having outside people coming in," Russell said. "Hopefully we will get back to that."

Russell said that, in light of the budget cuts around the state, the contract is reasonable.

Dougherty agrees.

"We ended up negotiating a contract I think both sides were satisfied with," Dougherty said.

But Chuck Mattocks, the bargaining spokesman for the Seaside Education Association, said he has gotten indications that teachers aren't very happy. This contract was ratified with a 66 percent yes vote. Most contracts usually run around a 90 percent yes vote or higher, he said.

"It's indicative of the fact we don't particularly believe it's a good settlement," he said.

Mattocks said that teachers were reluctant to push the issues because they realize that it's a tough economy and that the community has done a "really great job" of being supportive.

"Now that it's done the teachers are grateful and relieved the process is over for a while, and hopeful that financing for education, across the board, gets better," Mattocks said.

Board members Tom Maltman, Lynn Ulbricht, Duane Johnson and Larry Peterson all voted in favor of the contract; Steve Phillips, Nancy Hauger and Mark Truax were absent.

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