Medford School District officials insist progress was made during what teachers' representatives termed 10 hours of "brutal" negotiations Tuesday.
"We're progressing in the mediation phase," said Superintendent Phil Long.
The two parties have been bargaining over a new contract for six months without much progress. Their negotiating teams spent from noon until about 9:30 p.m. discussing proposals and counter-proposals with the help of an impartial, third-party mediator assigned by the Oregon Employment Relations Board.
The district began yesterday's session with a new proposal that would raise teachers' salaries by 6 percent this school year and by 1 percent in each of the next two years, Long said.
Its previous offer was for a 3.2 percent salary increase this year, with 1 percent increases in each of the next two years.
The proposal also provides salary step increases of 3.4 percent each year for teachers with less than 15 years of experience as well as for additional hours of education.
The district's proposal includes having teachers pay their 6 percent share of Public Employees Retirement System pension costs. The district would pay a capped amount averaging $1,050 per month per employee insurance costs. It also would contribute up to $1,200 a year to match teacher contributions to a retirement plan.
Medford Education Association president and bargaining team co-chairwoman Cheryl Lashley was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
But Lashley took a break four hours into Tuesday's bargaining process to inform 200 community supporters attending a rally outside the district offices that her bargaining team was facing "brutality" due to the district's "all or nothing" contract offer.
Medford's 600 teachers will not accept the district's offer because it will leave them working longer hours and more days with a net 3 percent decrease in their pay, she said.
Lashley, a third-grade teacher at Howard Elementary, told the crowd that the district is insisting teachers work longer hours and more days. Its offer of a 6 percent pay increase was more than offset by the removal of PERS contributions when combined with a requirement that teachers add six more days to their teaching time.
The district says the increase in calendar days provides more instructional time for students and more preparation time for teachers to improve student achievement and graduation rates. The proposed salary and benefits are reflective of the market, and allow the district to "create sustainable funding for the future," it said in a press release late Wednesday.
The district proposes to eliminate a reference to a 40-hour work week in the contract, saying teachers are paid a salary and not paid by the hour. Lashley said Tuesday she fears that could lead to even longer hours.
"The primary revisions to working conditions are to provide more flexibility for scheduling academic interventions and supports for students, advisory periods, and teacher professional development and preparation times," Long said in the release.
State union representatives did not return calls for comment from the Mail Tribune.
The most recent teachers' contract ran from July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2013. The rules in the contract remain in place while bargaining teams from each side negotiate a new agreement.
A second mediation session is slated to begin at 8 a.m. Oct. 17, Long said.
If there is no settlement, mediation can continue or one side can declare an impasse, in which case both parties have to submit their final offer. Teachers could then go on strike after giving 10 days' notice.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org.