and Mary Morrell

and Mary Morrell

Starting Tuesday, the Medford School District and the classified employees represented by the Oregon School Employees Association will enter mediation with a neutral third party in the hopes of resolving stalemated contract negotiations.

As members of the OSEA bargaining team, we see only one unresolved issue — the amount classified employees must contribute to medical insurance premiums.

Back in August, the classified bargaining team proposed a 3 percent contribution. The district's proposal was a cap on medical insurance premium contributions that equated to about a 16 percent contribution. In addition, the district offered a 7 percent cost-of-living adjustment.

For 2012-13, the 7 percent COLA will cover the cost of contributions to medical insurance and the Public Employees Retirement System for most classified employees; however, there is a small group of employees who will still realize a wage reduction even with the 7 percent COLA. That's because their wages are capped under the current contract because of a phase-out formula for vacation days they no longer receive. We can't in good conscience bring the district's proposal to our membership.

We believe our proposal on medical insurance premiums is fair and equitable given that district administrators and teachers contribute about 16 and 7 percent, respectively, to their premium costs. A 3 percent contribution is a proposal our team is willing to bring to our membership to ratify.

Classified employees are committed to working with the district to provide an environment where students can succeed, where funds can be maximized, and where all employees can contribute and feel valued.

That is why at the last bargaining session, our team agreed to pay the 6 percent PERS employee contribution, to study the issue of district retirement benefits and to bring a proposal to the 2013-14 negotiations changing current benefits to reduce the district's financial burden, and to pay a percentage of our medical insurance premiums. These are long-term commitments we are willing to make.

Last year, the district implemented devastating cuts to the wages and hours of classified employees. Our members are still struggling to recover from those cuts.

And since many classified employees are working fewer hours and assuming additional duties, we have not been able to provide as much attention and support to students and teachers in the classroom, the library and on the playground. Ultimately, it is the children who pay the price as they are not getting the time from us they deserve, which impacts their safety and their social and academic growth.

Classified employees are the clerical staff who efficiently run the school offices and care for your children when they are ill; the instructional support staff who provide one-on-one and small group assistance to your children in the classroom; the maintenance/custodial/grounds workers who keep the facilities where your children spend their days safe, clean, sanitary and well maintained; the technology staff who provide technical support for our schools and administration; the multilith operators working in the publications department who sort, proof and print much of the materials that children read and work on in the classroom; and the campus monitors who make sure your children are safe at school. Most of our members work the academic school year (193 days and less). They are not eligible for unemployment benefits during school recess periods. They are the lowest paid employees in the district.

We want to do what's best for our members, the community and our kids, and we head into mediation with that in mind.

Brian Rowlett is a carpenter in the Medford School District and president of OSEA Chapter 15. Mary Morrell is an office manager in the Medford School District and chairwoman of the OSEA Chapter 15 Negotiations Committee.