The certified teachers of Sisters School District ratified a new contract Monday, September 9, that was then adopted at the school board meeting two days later.

Following several months of negotiations, certified staff and district officials agreed to a deal that includes a 3 percent cost of living increase for each of the next two years and an additional $75 per month toward health insurance premiums.

In addition, extra duty stipends for supervision, athletics, and activities saw a 2 percent increase and an additional day was added to the teachers’ work calendar that will be used for professional development for this school year.

Michele Hammer, the president of the Sisters Education Association union, said, “I believe we were able to get a better contract than what was originally offered by the district when we started negotiations because the union members and negotiating team worked together and stayed unified.”

Hammer continued, “We are still the lowest paid district in the region, compared to similar-sized districts, but we made progress, and more importantly, we believe the district heard that staff are being asked to do more and more with no compensation for all of the extra time put into creating a caring, engaged learning environment.”

Superintendent Curtiss Scholl feels satisfied with how things worked out.

“I think the terms of the new contract are very fair,” he said. “Our increase in compensation was very consistent with what we have seen in other districts in Central Oregon.”

Scholl pointed out that Oregon ranks 39th in the nation for teacher pay, but added that it is hard to compare since Oregon also has a shorter school year than many states.

School board chairman Jay Wilkins said, “I wish we could have done even more, but I am very proud with how the teachers and the administrative side ultimately worked things out. I am glad we could offer them a raise without sacrificing too much in other areas.”

When asked about her perspective on teacher pay in Oregon in general, Hammer said, “I truly believe that the state legislature is hearing the failings happening in public education. The governor as well as lawmakers traveled the state having meetings with the teachers, not just district administrators, to really learn what is happening in their classrooms.”

She continued, “Increased funding at the state level and the passing of the SSA (Student Success Act) will go a long way in meeting the needs of the students. We need stronger mental health services, we need to address social/emotional learning and implement further supports within the classrooms to meet the needs of all students, and especially those with special needs.”

One area of concern that remains for Hammer and others is the difficulty of Sisters teachers being able to afford living in the school district.

“We can’t compare ourselves to Redmond and Bend in many ways, including when it comes to affordable housing,” said Hammer. “With the high cost of living in Sisters, it is impacting new teachers. They can’t afford to settle in Sisters so we are slowly losing that community connection when teachers were also residents of Sisters. Their low salary often makes it necessary to take on second jobs just to make ends meet.”

Hammer, who has been an educator for 35 years, including the last 15 here in Sisters wanted to make clear her appreciation for the Sisters School District.

“Sisters is an amazing district that gives teachers the opportunity to work and collaborate with fellow teachers and work towards what is best for students,” she said.