The Medford 549C School District hopes to reach a settlement with the teachers. We have offered what we believe is a good compensation package that treats the teachers fairly and provides a predictable, sustainable budget model that will allow us to educate future generations.
The district's other two employee groups, the administrators and the classified employees, have already accepted similar packages. Our full offer is available on the district's website at www.medford.k12.or.us.
One area of disagreement between the district and the teachers is the length of the school calendar. The district's offer has been characterized as "more work for less pay." During the months we spent bargaining, we learned that teachers need more time to do their jobs. Our intention in expanding the school year is to ease the daily workload, treat teachers as salaried professionals, and increase student learning time.
To offset this increase in days, the district has offered a pay raise of 8 percent: Six percent in the first year and 1 percent in each of the next two years. In addition, more than half of the district's teachers (those who have taught less than 15 years) qualify for a "step" increase of 3.4 percent each year, making the pay increase 9.4 percent in the first year. With the current salary schedule, a teacher with no experience and a bachelor's degree earns $33,115; under our offer, that teacher would earn $35,102 this year. Teachers with more than 15 years' experience, who are not eligible for a step, would earn just under $67,000.
The offer also includes a separate, market-based salary schedule for hard-to-recruit speech pathologists, school psychologists and nurses. Their salaries would range from $47,488 to $75,836.
Another area of disagreement is over the "PERS pickup." The law allows public entities to require employees to contribute, or pay a "pickup," of 6 percent to their own PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) accounts. This costs the employee about 4.5 percent in pre-tax dollars. The 6 percent offer more than compensates for the PERS payment in the first year of the contract.
As an additional benefit, the district has offered to match up to $1,200 a year for employees who contribute to a 403b plan.
One more disputed area regards medical, vision and dental insurance. Under the current contract, teachers pay 7 percent of their insurance premiums. Under our offer, rather than charging a percentage of the premium, we propose giving each employee $1,050 per month to buy insurance from among several plans.
Depending on how many family members they have and which plan they select, their cost per month will range from $0 for a single person with a $1,500 deductible up to $76.77 for a family with a $500 deductible. This year, under the current contract, those employees pay $25.76 and $93.62 respectively, more than under our proposal. While premiums may increase in the future, our employees' prudent use of insurance benefits can help keep those costs under control.
Another area of disagreement concerns the "early retirement benefit."
Currently, under certain conditions, a teacher may retire early and the district will pay the medical insurance premiums for up to eight years, until they are eligible for Medicare. In the past this was a benefit to the district because medical insurance was relatively inexpensive compared to salaries, but it has become an unsustainable cost and, in fact, is not in place for anyone hired after 2006.
In our offer, we end that benefit for all teachers. To assist in offsetting this, the district is offering the remaining qualified retiring teachers cash payments of $1,500 per year of service in the district.
A final area of disagreement is the district's proposal to update and create a clean contract that avoids obsolete, inconsistent and illegal language in the document.
Our goal is to create fair, comparable contracts with employees that result in sustainable budgets that allow us to pursue our mission of educating students. The classified and administrative employee groups already have agreed to a PERS pickup, the cap on insurance costs and ending early retirement in exchange for raises and 403b contributions. Our proposal would bring all of our employee groups into parity.
Kim Wallan and Sally Killen are Medford school board directors and board representatives on the district's negotiations team.