Contract agreement reached in Othello School District

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OTHELLO — Members of the Othello Education Association have ratified a new three-year contract with the Othello School District. Othello School Board members must approve the agreement before it goes into effect.

“Nothing is official yet,” said district superintendent Chris Hurst.

The agreement could come before the board at the regular meeting Monday, or could be pushed back to the July 23 meeting. “There are still some pieces we’re trying to work out,” Hurst said.

Steve Lindholm of Southeast Washington Uniserv did not return phone calls or an email asking for comment. Uniserv is the organization that works with union locals during negotiations.

Details won’t be available until the proposal is approved by the school board. If it’s approved by the board the contract will be in effect through the 2020-21 school year.

Hurst said district officials are satisfied with the completed proposal.

Negotiations were conducted just after the Washington Legislature enacted sweeping changes to the rules governing teacher compensation. That left the school districts that were in contract negotiations in uncharted territory.

“Pretty lengthy conversations for us.” The two sides “spent lengthy hours” in talks, Hurst said. “There were sessions that went well into the morning.” Until the changes in school funding approved by the legislature, teachers and support staff had been paid according a state-mandated schedule. The salary schedules were abolished as part of the revamped education funding plan.

That left each school district and the OEA to strike their own deal. “Everybody was looking to see what everybody else is doing,” Hurst said.

Districts that were in negotiations were prohibited from sharing details with neighboring districts. The Washington Association of School Directors did share information from districts that had reached agreement under the new rules. But when Othello was in negotiations only two district had signed contracts.

Negotiators were setting their own precedents as a result. District officials spent about three to four months in preparation, Hurst said. In Othello, school board members aren’t part of the negotiation team, he said; rather, the negotiation team consulted board members after each session.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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