Despite the promise at the start of the school year, the struggles and difficulties posed by the pandemic have proven stronger. Students and staff both continue to show signs of trauma, burnout, or both. Furthermore, District mandates pushed through despite these issues are overwhelming building level staff. The staff shortages–most significant in SPED classrooms–have made educating students difficult for all of us, but has had an outsized impact on the most marginalized students and the staff who spend the majority of their time working with them. The addition of too few subs has wreaked havoc on staff ability to take needed sick time and too often left students under-supervised. To add insult to injury, there have been repeated payroll issues and other problems circulating through the District office, and the District refuses to allow staff access to a COVID sick-leave bank without first exhausting all other leave. Needless to say, all of these issues have taken their toll and all stakeholders have suffered as a result.
As in every school year and throughout the summers, your elected union leaders have met with District leadership and School Board directors regularly. We have filed multiple grievances, letters of complaint, and demand to bargain letters. We have written letters to the Board that have worked to spur action by District leadership and to ensure a paper trail exists documenting a number of problems facing students and staff. We have worked to highlight maintenance and safety issues, and brought individual member concerns and payroll issues forward on a daily basis. We have held listening sessions with various groups upon request, helped guide several caucuses as they formed, and fought tirelessly for staff at Four Corners, who’s CTP program was forced to move mid-summer to a building that is still not fully finished. In addition, REA worked with OSEA to address the Superintendent Goal Performance Measures, Student Outcome Goals, and Board and Superintendent Guardrails. All of this work is ongoing and we will continue to stand for you at every turn.
While we have made progress in some areas, we continue to have a great deal of work ahead of us. These progresses, however, have felt overshadowed by setbacks that have proven beyond leadership’s reach alone. In order to make more significant gains, we believe your assistance will be necessary. As such, your Representative Assembly has requested the REA Organizing Team put together some actions for members starting in January. Please keep your eyes open for opportunities coming to your personal email and from your Building Reps to make your voice heard.
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Finally, we are now approaching Winter Break, a time to rest and recharge for most staff. It’s a time to be with family and friends. It’s time, for most of us, for celebration. But as we are painfully aware, it is a time of fear and trepidation for many students. A time without the safety and routine of school, with too little access to food, and sometimes worse. While we are all stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed, it is important to remember that many students are struggling even more. Their anxiety may be high and they may act out, but our kindness, generosity, and patience is integral to their success.
Thank you for all you do for our students. Thank you for all you do for our community. Thank you for all you do for our union. We are strong when we are united. We are strong when we are one. Together, we can make real, positive changes to our working conditions and students' learning conditions.
Now that the school year is fully under way, I wanted to take a moment to stop and focus on member driven caucuses. As you may or may not be aware, caucuses are a way for members who share some commonality to come together. Caucuses can work as a central place to advocate for needs, to organize around issues, and to help educate one another in similar fields. Caucuses can also be used as social gatherings to simply enjoy the company of others who share something in common. Caucuses can be built around your work as an educator (Counseling, SPED, New Hires, etc.) or on your larger interests (Social Justice, Conservative, etc.).
REA has had many caucuses come and go over the years and we currently have three caucuses that are getting off the ground anew: a SPED Caucus, a Library Caucus, and a BIPOC Caucus. REA leadership is hopeful that throughout this year, many more caucuses will sprout up. The three caucuses recently established have begun to hold initial meet-ups and are starting to make decisions on when and how often to meet. Next steps will be nominating and electing caucus leadership and building agendas for future work.
Why does REA want you to start/join a caucus?
REA has a vested interest in caucuses as they are designed to promote solidarity, organizing, and advocacy of members’ special interests. Additionally, we will be entering into bargaining our next contract in just over one year. As such, caucuses are an ideal way for members to inform and influence bargaining and what goes into REA’s proposal. Caucuses are arguably the most effective way of promoting issues you deem important and needed in future CBAs (Contract Bargaining Agreements). This is NOT because leadership is indifferent to individual concerns. We regularly take many, many of these concerns to our weekly Contract Bargaining meetings with the District. But it is often difficult to ascertain the difference between those ideas that are shared throughout a group (and should be bargained) and those that are personal in nature and not shared by other members in a similar position.
Click here to learn more about how to join or start a REA Caucus!
Before I get into all the issues and events from this past week, I first have two asks:
Other major concerns REA is continuing to work on and advocate around (beyond individual member concerns) focus mostly on issues around the District moving the CTP program and many other staff to the Four Corners location, and workload/caseload issues, mostly for SLPs and others in the Special Education department. Our goal is to address these issues to the best of our ability via the Substitute MOU, which is still in the works. Please watch the Bargaining Updates page for any developments on the Substitute MOU and on an In-Person MOU. We have proposed language which will re-open access to the COVID sick leave bank. In the meantime, if you are out with COVID, please make sure to mark your absence as COVID-related in iVisions.
A Bit of Hope
For this week’s update, I want to focus on some positives and share some points of hopefulness for the 2022-2023 school year. We are just now wrapping up the first full week of class, and it appears much of the chaos and disruptions faced when we first returned last year, has ebbed. That is not to say everything has returned to “normal” or that everything is great. All of us continue to face difficulties beyond those of several years ago and some buildings and staff are struggling more than others as the result of staffing shortages, bussing concerns, and more. But this year does show promise in a way we never saw throughout the course of the past two years.
Over the summer, REA leadership worked on finding avenues for a better relationship with the District and School Board. That is not to say we have forgotten about the issues surrounding the vote of no confidence, of what most staff rightly recognize as serious concerns with communication, or any of the many other issues we face. Simply, we are working on improving the relationship so we can better meet member and student needs.
In this effort, REA leadership and School Board Directors are meeting informally in small groups twice each month. These gatherings consist of 2-3 REA leaders and 2-3 Board Directors at each meet-up. The goal is to enhance communication between us. These informal meet-ups create an space for REA to discuss at length issues as they happen, and to give the Board a head’s up so they are not surprised by them through public to be heard. It also gives Board Directors room to ask questions of REA, get clarification on issues, and to hear clearly REA's understanding of difficulties facing educators, students, and the District at large. To date, we have held five of these gatherings.
Additionally, the October 12 School Board Work Session hopes to focus on public discussions between REA, OSEA, and the entire School Board. While I do not yet have an agenda for this--and am honestly unsure how it will look--the current goal is to hold two of these a year.
REA Leadership also met with the majority of the District Cabinet and leaders over dinner at Dr. Diaz’s house. This gave us all an opportunity to meet as there are a lot of new faces in both REA Leadership and in the District office.
Lastly, I want to regularly give some shout-outs to members for all the amazing work you do throughout the District and for the Union. Please click here and complete the form if you have some positive news to share that I could possibly include in a future Union Update.
This week we welcome students back from their summer break and kick off the 2022-2023 school year. While this should be a time for joy, REA leadership is aware that for many, this excitement of meeting our new students is mixed with trepidations. This past week many of us have faced numerous difficulties: dis-functioning HVAC (a problem facing 40% of public schools nationally), confusion around appliances and fire codes, the mad scramble to fully furnish your classroom or office so it is set up to meet student needs, and more.
We are also aware of issues facing many of you as students return this week: lack of full curriculum, oversized caseloads, unfilled vacancies in their building (classified and certified, and more.
While I cannot promise all these difficulties will be resolved quickly, REA leadership is working to protect members and help everyone get what they need. You deserve it and our students deserve it.
In the coming days, look for an update on the Bargaining Blog regarding work on a Substitute MOU and discussions about an In-Person MOU. We are also in talks with the District regarding appliances and lamps. REA continues to maintain that any new mandates to remove these items is a change in our working conditions and therefore violates our CBA (Contract Bargaining Agreement).
In some positive news, REA has already successfully signed up a majority of new members! Please welcome them to Reynolds and REA when you see them.
Other work we are doing on your behalf to keep an eye for in the coming weeks: a new way to contact REA anonymously about concerns or with ideas of issues you’d like to see addressed here; a REA pamphlet full of information about REA, who we are, how to contact leadership, what REA provides for you, etc. (thank you to our Organizing Team for putting this together!); a form to share positive news and applause for other members that can be shared here and/or in the REA Newsletter.
Good luck this week and please reach out if you need anything!
Welcome Back, REA!
I hope everyone had time to step away from the rigors of educating our community’s young people and take time for yourselves and your families. Whether you took to the mountains and forests or simply went home and closed the door for a prolonged period, my hope is that you are returning rested and at least somewhat rejuvenated.
For those who were in Reynolds last year, it was the most difficult of most our careers. But we persevered and did our best to provide for Reynolds students. Everyone deserves a great deal of gratitude for their work and dedication.
For those who are new to Reynolds, both new educators and veterans, welcome. Whether you faced similar difficulties last year as a student educator, or working in another district, you know well dedication necessary to educate students under pandemic conditions, and an attempt at “normalcy.” If you did not meet your building Rep at the New Educator Luncheon this past Thursday, they should be coming around to introduce themselves soon and help answer any questions.
I want everyone to know how appreciated is your work and commitment to students. Thank you.
For myself, stepping into this new role as your union president has been at times both overwhelming and incredibly gratifying. REA leadership has been hard at work on your behalf throughout the summer, including self-education, working on improved relations with the School Board and new District personnel, organizing ourselves and goals for the coming year, continuing the daily task of contract maintenance, outlining MOU work, welcoming new educators, and so much more.
This work, and the successes that come with it, is possible because REA remains one of Oregon’s strongest locals with over 95% membership. Despite heavy turnover the past two-three years, we continue to grow our membership as new hires sign on. Your commitment to solidarity, to standing as one, keeps us strong. And while that does not mean we get everything we want, it does mean we have a seat at the table and an opportunity to strengthen our contract. This includes a retention bonus that will pay an additional $1,000 in November and another $1,000 in May 2023.
A few details and reminders as we start the year:
Finally, I wanted to share that I hope to include regular (every 1-2 weeks) updates on the Union Blog and MOU updates will be shared as appropriate on the Bargaining Blog. This is part of an effort to streamline communication, make general updates more consistent and available to all, and give leadership an opportunity to respond to concerns, etc. that come our way, including those heard in the End of Year survey.
If you need anything—especially in this next two weeks as we prepare for and then welcome back students—please do not hesitate to reach out.
Thank you and In Solidarity,
Welcome back, REA members!
First of all, I have to start by thanking all of you for your hard work in the past year. I could not have imagined such a crazy year, full of changes and complications. And yet, despite the chaos and uncertainty, you all stepped up and did everything you could for kids. You are resilient and dedicated educators, and I am so proud of and impressed by all of you. It is a privilege to represent you as REA president this year. Obviously, we cannot promise any sort of “normal,” but I know I am definitely looking forward to getting to have students in the classroom again and having some of the classroom experiences that we all missed out on last year. And I have no doubt that you will all rise to the occasion again and create a positive school experience for your students.
We also need to take a moment to give a shout out to all summer school staff. In spite of changing plans, lack of materials, and other challenges, all of the certified, classified, and administrative staff who worked on the summer school program at each school did an amazing job making this valuable and enjoyable for students. I was so impressed throughout the summer at everything I saw and heard – from multiple schools, especially from students – and it was clearly a success because of all your hard work. You should all be very proud of what you created for kids!
By now, you have probably heard about the state’s mask mandate for all K-12 schools and about the vaccine mandate for all school employees. (This will go into effect October 18th or six weeks after the FDA gives full approval for the vaccines, whichever is later.) All staff will be expected to comply with both of these state mandates. While the state has taken these two decisions out of our hands, there are still many COVID-related factors that will affect your working conditions and students’ learning conditions this year. REA is currently negotiating with the district to finish an MOU that will apply to our return to school this fall. Our goal is to preserve the safest conditions possible for staff and students, while facilitating a very necessary return to classrooms and in-person instruction. We are encouraged by the collaboration shown by the district’s MOU negotiations team and hopeful that this MOU will be settled soon.
Some start-of-the-year details and reminders:
*Formal contract negotiations are also ongoing, although the priority at this time is the MOU mentioned above. As we are currently working without a settled contract, the previous 2020-2021 contract is still in effect. Also, the partial tuition freeze that was in effect last year has ended, so all members should once again have access to the usual tuition reimbursement, per Article 19. The next formal negotiations sessions are tentatively scheduled for September 21st and October 5th. These sessions are scheduled to be virtual and are open to all.
*The schedule for our first week back at work looks like this:
Monday, August 30th – member-directed workday
Tuesday, August 31st – building PD day
Wednesday, September 1st – district PD (a.m.), building PD (p.m.)
Thursday, September 2nd – member-directed workday
Friday, September 3rd – non-contract day (buildings should be open)
Thanks to our negotiations team for working so hard to get us that additional pre-instructional workday to help us prepare for students. Specifics about the professional development days should be provided by your building principal/supervisor.
*Don’t forget to complete your insurance enrollment. This year, enrollment is mandatory, which means EVERYONE must re-enroll for each of your insurance options in order to continue them. Enrollment must be completed by September 3rd. Staff should have received an email last week from Liza (Elizabeth) Holland, the district’s new benefits specialist, including information about the district’s planned enrollment support sessions (Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday of this week).
Finally, as we look forward to welcoming students back into classrooms, please remember to take care of yourselves and of each other. Once again, we are starting a school year with lots of things up in the air and lots of external factors affecting us and our jobs. Keep in mind that everyone is under an extraordinary amount of stress, and be sure to extend compassion and support to each other whenever possible. We are all working toward a shared goal – to support our kids – and we are always stronger together. When we support each other, we can work together to create amazing school experiences for students.
Good luck to each of you as you prepare to start the school year. Please reach out if you need anything or have questions.
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