A Philomath Education Association teacher survey on working conditions painted a dismal picture to the Philomath School Board on Thursday night. Eighty-one of 102 teachers in the district participated in the survey and the high majority of those who answered indicated that they have stressful, less enjoyable jobs with a greater workload when compared to the period before the pandemic.
“Our teachers love teaching, they love being with students, they love helping students succeed,” PEA representative Len Cerny told School Board members at Thursday’s regular meeting. “At the same time, we are having teachers who are experiencing significant impacts of high stress loads and workloads.”
The survey included an open-ended question with teachers able to provide comments on their experiences. Cerney read a sampling:
• “I’ve been extremely disappointed with the amount of stress and pressure that’s been put on teachers. I feel like I cannot take time off about feeling guilty because there’s a lack of sub coverage. … My mental health has been taking a toll because I am working well over my contract hours.”
• “I’m burned out and discouraged. I’m trying to work smarter, not harder, and yet the way things are going, it’s not sustainable. Even with time management, it feels impossible to fulfill all of the duties that I need to, including cleaning, communicating with families, communicating with colleagues, prepping, reflecting on teaching what students need, staying ahead and planning in case of a quarantine, adding additional engaging lessons that are not part of the curriculum and then dealing with the social-emotional side to students.”
• “I’m seriously considering leaving my job. I worked super hard to get here but over these past couple of years, I’ve given everything I have for my school at great cost to my own family and children as well as my health. Starting this fall, I’ve been aware of, as well as saddened, by a little voice in my head suggesting that maybe it’s time to move on.”
The survey’s appearance at the meeting comes during a time when the school district and teachers union have not yet settled on a contract.
“Mental wellnesses and support for staff and a settled contract that reflects an appropriate salary are important,” one teacher wrote in the comments read by Cerny.
Earlier in the meeting during public comments, kindergarten teacher Charlene Opheim read a letter to the board from Christa Schmeder, president of the Corvallis Education Association, that among its points outlined the value of teachers and how empathy, respect and competitive compensation would go a long way.
The teachers survey presentation came during the PEA’s designated time on the agenda to provide a report to the board.
“We do understand that you are working hard and we’re trying to do what we can to help … We are trying to make things better,” Rick Wells, School Board chair, said in response to the presentation. “Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s out of our control but we are trying.”
Wells said he believes that such challenges are not unique to teachers and can be felt by many.
“I think that not only teachers but a lot of other professions are kind of in the same boat of being stressed out and tired, tired of dealing with, you know, this COVID thing, in all the aspects of it, so it’s not just the teaching profession,” Wells said.
Neither the superintendent nor the board provided any updates on the status of contract negotiations.
Wells and other board members during comments toward the end of the meeting had words of appreciation and encouragement to the teachers. Roughly 20 teachers were in attendance at the meeting.
Vaccinations and the virus
Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday provided updates on COVID-related issues during her report to the board. On Wednesday, a clinic at the high school administered 152 COVID vaccines — 92 to children and 60 to adults. In addition, flu shots went to 23 adults and 19 children.
“As we get into the information on the pediatric vaccine being released, I’ve heard some comments from families that say ‘absolutely not,’” Halliday said. “… We are not, as a district, requiring any students to be vaccinated.”
A COVID vaccine is now available to children between the ages of 5 and 11.
“It did not hurt that every child that walked out of there had a sucker and a stuffed animal that they could take with them,” Halliday added about the clinic. “It was a very successful event.”
The next vaccination clinic at the high school is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. on Dec. 8.
As Halliday reported last month, all staff members currently employed in the district have met vaccination requirements.
Referring to metrics as of Nov. 18, Halliday reported that Benton County was 71.8% vaccinated with 111 cases per 100,000 people and a 3% test positivity rate.
“The number of cases per 100,000 and 3% test positivity are significantly less than they were a month ago, which is good for us,” Halliday said. “In talking to the (Benton) County Health Department, I haven’t gotten the numbers yet, but they are very pleased with the Philomath zip code.”
Also, the Ready Schools, Safe Learners Resiliency Framework for the 2021-22 school year has not been updated since Sept. 9, Halliday reported.
“Our face-covering requirements are still in place and there is a current statewide review of quarantine requirements that are trying to unify students’ quarantine requirements across the board,” Halliday said.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, the board heard from a parent who was complaining about not being able to volunteer because she is unvaccinated. The parent said she is tested weekly for COVID.
“Being banned from my child’s school with a negative COVID test, to me, it’s unacceptable,” she said.
Lillian Edmonds, district executive assistant, later in the meeting confirmed with the board that prospective volunteers who are unvaccinated have the option of submitting a form that requests religious or medical exemption.
In other news out of the Nov. 18 meeting:
• Tonja Everest, superintendent of the Linn Benton Lincoln Educational Service District, briefly talked to the board about its services.
• PHS senior Dylan Bell gave a student government report with references to successes involving fall sports and a recent blood drive and a preview of upcoming events and activities.
• Ryan Kildea, Oregon School Education Association representative, announced that classified employees had ratified a memorandum of understanding on a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy. The board later unanimously approved the MOU between the district and the OSEA.
• Halliday in her superintendent’s report covered several areas that included activities in classrooms, success of fall sports, a technology grant award to Jennifer Kessel, statewide assessment information, Student Investment Account updates, COVID-related statistics as mentioned above and upcoming events.
• Finance Director Bill Mancuso provided an overview of the district’s financial situation with an emphasis on enrollment declines and timber fee impacts as they relate to state school funding. Mancuso said enrollment in the district is down 24 students compared to this time last year.
• The School Board listened to Response to Instruction and Intervention reports that provided insight on student performance in various grade levels. RtII is an early intervention support process designed to improve student achievement using research-based interventions matched to student needs.
• The board unanimously approved nominations of Sarah McDonald, of the Corvallis School District, as regional member on the Oregon School Boards Association Legislative Policy Committee, and Jeff Davis, of the Alsea School District, as regional member on the OSBA Board of Directors.
• The board unanimously approved a MOU between the district and PEA regarding the use of surveillance video equipment for purposes related to school safety and security.
• The board unanimously approved a motion to allow the district’s policy committee to go through the first reading process with the board to then follow with second reading votes in the regular meeting. The board briefly discussed a few of the 11 policies that had been scheduled for a first reading.
• The board unanimously approved a consent agenda with one revision that listed several personnel and staffing changes, a list of October bills, recent meeting minutes and a resolution to approve unanticipated funding. Among the hires was Thomas Kelley as a Philomath High School physical education teacher.
• The board unanimously approved the sale of ironworker machine as surplus property.
• The board unanimously approved a one-year co-op agreement in boys basketball between Philomath High and Kings Valley Charter School.
• The School Board met with Kings Valley Charter School Board for one hour in the late afternoon to discuss renewing a charter school agreement between the two entities.
• The School Board also met for 30 minutes in executive session for reasons of discussing labor negotiations and evaluating the employment of a district employee.
VOTING RECORD Following is a list of votes taken by the Philomath School Board at its Nov. 18 meeting:
• To nominate Sarah McDonald as regional member on the Oregon School Boards Association Legislative Policy Committee and Jeff Davis as regional member on the OSBA Board of Directors. Motion: Grube. Seconded: Gudge. Vote: Passes 5-0 (Yes—Dealy, Grube, Gudge, Skinkis, Wells).
• To approve a memorandum of understanding regarding a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy. Motion: Dealy. Seconded: Gudge. Vote: Passes 5-0 (Yes—Dealy, Grube, Gudge, Skinkis, Wells).
• To approve a memorandum of understanding between the Philomath School District and the Philomath Education Association regarding the use of security cameras. Motion: Dealy. Seconded: Skinkis. Vote: Passes 5-0 (Yes—Dealy, Grube, Gudge, Skinkis, Wells).
• To authorize the policy committee to formally make the first reading on policies and to bring to the board for a second reading. Motion: Skinkis. Seconded: Grube. Vote: Passes 5-0 (Yes—Dealy, Grube, Gudge, Skinkis, Wells).
• To approve a consent agenda as revised. Motion: Dealy. Seconded: Gudge. Vote: Passes 5-0 (Yes—Dealy, Grube, Gudge, Skinkis, Wells).
• To approve the sale of surplus property. Motion: Dealy. Seconded: Grube. Vote: Passes 5-0 (Yes—Dealy, Grube, Gudge, Skinkis, Wells).
• To approve a request for a cooperative agreement between Kings Valley Charter School and Philomath High School in boys basketball. Motion: Skinkis. Seconded: Grube. Vote: Passes 5-0 (Yes—Dealy, Grube, Gudge, Skinkis, Wells).