The Philomath School Board meets Thursday night at Blodgett Elementary School. Here, the group, which also includes district staff, listens to an Oregon School Boards Association training session. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Following a unanimous vote by the School Board Thursday, the Philomath School District and the local teachers’ union officially came to terms on a two-year contract that becomes effective immediately and runs through the 2024-25 academic year.

The agreement features a lot of specific information, of course, but in general, it realigns the steps and columns in teacher salary schedules in a move to increase base compensation.

“The whole salary schedule made an adjustment called a step shift, where they added one step to everybody’s place and one salary column number for everybody,” Philomath Education Association co-president David Dunham explained.

Moving up a step represents a 4% salary increase. In addition, cost-of-living raises were calculated at 3.5% for 2023-24 and 3% for 2024-25. So for many, the numbers equate to a 7.5% raise.

Exceptions come into play for teachers at the top of the salary schedule, however, with a 1.5% “experience stipend” to not be paid out during the first year of the contract because they are now eligible to move up a step following the restructuring. For those in that situation, the raise would be 6% in the first year and the 1.5% stipend would then return in 2024-25 along with the 3% cost-of-living adjustment. The experience stipend was first introduced in the 2021-23 contract period. Others would receive 4% step increases both years in addition to the 3% COLA.

Dunham, who estimated the PEA’s membership at around 100, reported a near-unanimous vote took place Aug. 31to ratify the agreement.

The process wrapped up after five months of negotiations, which date back to late April and included a break in July. Negotiations have been known to take much longer in previous years. The last time around, for example, teachers in 2021-22 were working with an expired contract five months into the school year before the two sides came to terms in January 2022.

“This was pretty streamlined compared to some I’ve been on,” Dunham said. “I’ve been on negotiating teams four or five times and this one, to me, was the fastest one I’ve seen.”

The Philomath School Board had delayed a vote on the agreement at its previous meeting to allow more time to read through the details. The approval Thursday took place during the business meeting portion of the group’s annual retreat at Blodgett Elementary School.

Prior to the vote, Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday explained a snag in the wording of a section in the agreement related to position-specific stipends. Since the document had already been ratified by the PEA, the board agreed to simply change the wording to fix the issue.

The contract includes a stipend for the district’s special education teachers — a move seen as a key to retain and recruit educators in that particular field of expertise.

“Special educators are getting very scarce to hang on to,” Dunham said. “I think all districts are trying to do what they can to keep their special ed people in place and keep them from getting poached by other districts that could pay more.”

The PEA and school district have expressed appreciation toward one another for putting in the work that led to an approved contract.

The full agreement can be found in the School Board’s Sept. 7 meeting packet.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.