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MailTribune.com
  • A contract divide

    Medford School District and its teachers union show no inclination to compromise, with classes starting Sept. 3
  • Representatives of the Medford School District and the teachers union were not able to move closer to agreeing on contract terms when they met Tuesday in the district's Board Room in Medford.
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  • Representatives of the Medford School District and the teachers union were not able to move closer to agreeing on contract terms when they met Tuesday in the district's Board Room in Medford.
    They will meet again Aug. 21 for the 11th collective bargaining session in the hope of preventing a teachers' strike after school starts Sept. 3.
    During Tuesday's daylong session, the Medford Education Association offered a written counter to its initial proposal offered on July 2 after three months of bargaining.
    In two days, the district will put in writing its new offer of a 3.2 percent increase on base salaries the first year of the three-year contract, followed by additional 1 percent increases each of the remaining two years.
    About half of the teachers also would qualify for proposed step increases of 3.4 percent, said Superintendent Phil Long.
    The district's proposal also asks for flexibility in the number of teachers' contract days, between 186 and 192, without additional pay. Of those, 170 are instructional days.
    The district also wants to realign teachers' health insurance costs, early retirement benefits and Public Employees Retirement System contributions with other district employees.
    "They want to work us harder and longer, pay us less and have us pick up our 6 percent PERS contribution," said Cheryl Lashley, MEA president and a district teacher for 16 years.
    The teachers' union is asking for a 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment, stipends after 17 and 20 years of teaching, increased benefit contributions as well as changes in working conditions, and maintaining references to a 40-hour workweek.
    Long acknowledged that the gap between the district's proposal and the teachers' is substantial.
    A comparison prepared by Brad Earl, the district's chief financial officer, showed the district proposes a total compensation contract increase of 11 percent while the teachers union wants a 23.3 percent increase.
    In the last contract for July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2013, the teachers' contract was reduced $7.2 million through cuts in professional development days, insurance contributions and other benefits, Lashley said.
    "We helped the district solve its financial crisis and were promised that when the money came back, we would get it," Lashley said Tuesday after the session ended.
    Long said the budget was balanced last time by eliminating 50 teaching positions and by teachers taking an 8 percent cut in salary and eight furlough days. Teachers also agreed to pay 7 percent of their insurance premiums.
    The morning began optimistically when 100 teachers in "I Teach" T-shirts gathered outside the district's Board Room, holding signs asking for an end to the drawn-out negotiations.
    Catherine Brasseur, a fourth-grade teacher at Howard Elementary who was helping to organize teachers, said, "We need to settle this as soon as possible, otherwise ... if we don't like what the district is offering, we will have to accept it or strike."
    At the beginning of the session, Brasseur handed district representatives a petition signed by 1,000 people asking that the negotiations be settled quickly and fairly.
    By 3:30 p.m., the session ended early and Brasseur declared it the "most adversarial" bargaining she has seen since joining the district in 1996.
    "In a year of relative economic stability, the district still wants to make cuts on the back of teachers," she said.
    MEA president Lashley says the Aug. 21 meeting is right before teachers return to their classrooms Aug. 23 and 24.
    "All of this is taking focus away from us being teachers," she said. "We want to get away from the bargaining table and get back to teaching."
    Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@mailtribune.com
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