Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Chris Collins


The Baker School Board approved, on a 4-1 vote, a new three-year contract agreement with district teachers Tuesday night.

Director Kyle Knight voted against the plan.

The new contract provides an overall increase of about 2 percent for the certified staff, but with a higher increase added to the upper and lower ends of the salary schedule. Over the next three years, the contract will be reopened to consider salary and benefits as state school revenue changes.

Under the new agreement, a beginning teacher would earn about 6.7 percent more in 2013-14.

The salary of a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree will increase from $28,626 to $30,558.

Superintendent Walt Wegener said today that the entry level increase is designed to make the district more competitive recruiting new teachers.

The top salary under the new plan would be $57,923, which would go to a teacher with 15 years' experience who holds a bachelor's degree, plus 90 additional hours of education or a master's degree and 45 additional hours of education.

That's an increase of about 4.6 percent over the current salary of $55,391 earned by a teacher with that same experience and education under the old salary schedule.

"Depending on education and experience, you got a different sized pay raise," Wegener said. "Some got virtually nothing and some as much as 4 percent. What it emphasizes is high qualified and experienced."

Tim Smith, Baker Education Association president, said today that teachers are happy with the agreement.

"It was something that was worked on between both groups," he said today. "We knew we needed to do something. We were well below average for salary schedules, top and bottom."

Smith said the district's teachers salaries were next to last in the state for schools of comparative size.

"This gave a salary increase to the BEA for the first time since 2007-2008," Smith said.

The 2013-14 salary schedule includes 16 step increases, generally from about 3 percent to 5 percent, for each additional year of experience in the district, and six step increases for additional education obtained by certified staff members.

Teachers in the middle of the salary schedule receive a smaller wage increase under the agreement, and in some cases will even receive a pay cut.

For example, a teacher with nine years' experience in the district who holds a bachelor's degree, plus 45 hours of additional credit hours, will earn $39 less under the new plan.

That salary will drop from $41,908 to $41,869.

There are "hardly any" teachers who fall into those categories, however, Wegener said.

An example of a 2-percent increase can be found in the column of the salary schedule paid to a teacher with three years' experience and a bachelor's degree, plus 75 additional credit hours, or a master's degree and 22 additional credit hours. That pay rate would rise from $37,156 under the current schedule to $37,926 under the proposed plan.

Doug Dalton, the district chief financial officer and business manager, who negotiated the new contract, said today that the district has a lot of experienced teachers with an average length of service to the district of 17 to 18 years, and many have master's degrees. He added, however, that there have been a number of retirements and new teachers have been hired to fill those positions.

The total cost of the overall wage increase is about $200,000 for the first year of the contract, which will be paid by savings in public employee pension reform approved by the Legislature this fall, which the district believes is safe from litigation, he said.

Dalton said the raises help address the issue of "talent management."

"The underlying issue and goal is talent management," he said. "It's a question of how do you attract and retain the best employees within your budget."

In casting the lone vote against the agreement, Knight said he has been concerned about declining student enrollment and its effect on district revenue. But after a discussion last month about the need to fund future programs such as all-day kindergarten and PE classes at the elementary level, he is more concerned than ever about granting raises.

"I think it would be a mistake to pass this contract pertaining to the COLAs (cost-of-living increases) he said. "I think the contract could damage the district financially and could cause deeper cuts if we have to make cuts in the future."

Knight said the former salary schedule put the Baker district "in lockstep with similar districts in our climate."

He pointed to a 2011-12 Oregon School Board Association statewide report of average teachers salaries by county.

Under the 2011-12 salary schedule, Baker teachers on average earned $50,223 per year. That compared to $51,242 in Union County and $51,502 in Malheur County. Umatilla County teachers on average earned $54,127 and Wallowa County teachers were paid an average of $54,939.

But teachers in Morrow, Grant, Harney, Wheeler and Lake counties earned less than Baker teachers, according to the report.

The report put the average salary of the 29,380 teachers statewide at $56,737.

"I don't feel teacher pay makes a huge difference in student performance," Knight said. "It makes some, but not in the same way it would have in replacing a program or cutting other programs."

He added that salary issues have not seemed to hamper the district's ability to keep high quality teachers, judging by the number of long-tenured teachers.

"I don't see the district having an issue with retaining teachers," he said. "I don't see a lot of teachers moving away for that reason."