Hundreds of Medford School District teachers and their supporters frustrated with contract negotiations flooded Monday's school board meeting, prompting the city fire marshal to order the district to limit the crowd as teachers demanded the meeting be moved to a bigger arena.
"Move! Move! Move!" chanted the teachers, after district officials announced the crowd of more than 300 needed to be limited to 80 per the fire marshal's orders.
The group reassembled in Central High School Auditorium after a 20-minute recess, and the hour-long public comment segment of the meeting was doubled in order to accommodate all the speakers.
Board members stood up against the stage as several dozen speakers voiced their frustration with the contentious contract negotiations.
"The greatest resource this district has are its teachers," educator Barbara Rose said. "We aren't the enemy. We are on the same team."
Rose decried the way the district has portrayed teachers to the public, saying they've been accused of being greedy, selfish and "out for themselves." She said teachers are working 60 hours a week or more, and have endured "years of cuts and rollbacks," only to be denied a fair salary increase, even as administrators voted themselves raises.
The teacher's union and Medford School District officials remain far apart after the school district announced its "best offer" to the Medford Education Association Friday afternoon, following an 18-hour negotiation the previous day.
The district is offering a three-year contract calling for an 8-percent salary increase the first year and 1-percent increases the final two years. Teachers with 15 or fewer years of experience will receive salary increases of 3.4 percent a year for three years, with cost-of-living adjustments.
Eligible teachers would receive up to eight years of insurance coverage at district expense if they retire by March 2014. Teachers would pay no more for their insurance, but in the third year the cost could increase depending on how well they manage to help control their health care costs, district officials have said.
Additionally, the district is offering a 2 percent tax-deferred savings account, "upping the salary increase to 10 percent," Board member Tricia Prendergast said following the meeting.
Prendergast said language regarding teachers performing a 40-hour work week was removed from the contract at the demand of the district's attorney because teachers are salaried employees. As such, there can be no contractual hourly minimum or maximum, she said.
"It was never our intent to have that misconstrued that we wanted to work (teachers) even harder," Prendergast said. "We know teachers work to death."
Robert Black has been the head of North Medford High School's astronomy program for more than 16 years. Black, along with other volunteers, spent 400 extra hours working to build an observatory at North, he said. Black moved to Medford after teaching in Texas where teachers' time and efforts were micromanaged and disrespected, he added.
"I want to be respected and compensated for the hard work I put in," Black said.
Several speakers, including Cheryl Lashley, union president and teacher at Howard Elementary, said the district's offer of a salary increase is a mirage because the district seeks to increase its calendar by nearly a week without increasing teacher compensation for the extra days.
Also, the teachers are asked to pay their Public Employee Retirement System, or PERS, costs, which would consume the salary increase.
The union accepted these concessions when the economy tanked in 2008, but as the economy has improved, the teachers are looking to begin receiving the salary increases inked in the memorandum.
The district received $93 million from the state in the last biennium and $101 million in the current one.
The union believes the district should use some of this cash for teacher salary increases.
Reid Bastian, the husband of a teacher, spoke at length and hammered the district for "ignoring" a 2011 memorandum signed by union leaders and Superintendant Phil Long that stated the district promised to invest any new money it would receive to add back school days or restore salary concessions the union made in past negotiations.
"Please don't make (Medford) the Walmart of school districts," Bastian said.
The two sides are scheduled to meet again Tuesday, Nov. 12. If they do not reach an agreement, a districtwide strike could occur.