Medford School District cancels public meeting to work on contract offer

As the Medford School District teeters on the brink of a strike, the school board cancelled tonight's scheduled public meeting in order to focus on figure-crunching its final offer to the teachers.

Medford School Board Chairman Jeff Thomas said the board will meet in an hours-long closed executive session today to "review all the numbers from the business office." (Correction: Jeff Thomas' name and title have been corrected in this story.)

"We'll be having a discussion on what the final offer will be," Thomas said, adding those figures will be turned in to the state tomorrow. The school district on Nov. 1 said it was announcing its "best offer" to the Medford Education Association following an 18-hour negotiation the previous day.

But their proposal didn't fly with the union. Bitterly divided over everything from pay to retirement funding and the number of workdays, on Nov. 12 the board called an impasse to the negotiation efforts, starting the clock toward a possible strike in mid- to late-December.

Cheryl Lashley, union president and teacher at Howard Elementary, said she remains disappointed with the offer.

It would have given teachers a 10 percent pay increase in the first year, followed by 1 percent increases in each of the following two years. It would have increased the school year from 186 days to 192 days and required teachers to take on the 6 percent contribution the district now makes into their Public Employees Retirement System pensions. It also would cap health insurance payments by the district.

The salary increase is a mirage, Lashley said, as the district seeks to increase its calendar without increasing teacher compensation for the extra days. Also, the pension contributions would consume the salary increase. Thus, the offer would be effectively be a 1.25 percent cut in pay, Lashley said.

Superintendent Phil Long disagreed, stating the total compensation package offered by the district would be the second-highest in Southern Oregon.

About 12,000 students and 600 teachers would be affected by a strike.

— Sanne Specht

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