As the Medford School District teeters on the brink of a teachers' strike, the School Board canceled Monday's scheduled public meeting to instead focus on crunching the numbers of its final contract offer.
Medford School Board Chairman Jeff Thomas said the board planned to meet in an hours-long closed executive session Monday to "review all the numbers from the business office."
"We'll be having a discussion on what the final offer will be," Thomas said, adding those figures will be turned over to the state today for review.
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.
The offer would give teachers a 10 percent pay increase in the first year, followed by 1 percent increases in each of the following two years. It would also increase the school year from 186 days to 192 days and require 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 district's proposal did not fly with the union. Bitterly divided over everything from pay to retirement funding and the number of work days, the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement, and on Nov. 12 the board called an impasse in the negotiation efforts. That starts the clock toward a possible strike in mid- to late December.
Cheryl Lashley, union president and a teacher at Howard Elementary School, has expressed disappointment with the offer.
Lashley said the district received $93 million from the state in the last biennium and $101 million in the current one. Despite that, she said, the district is not honoring a 2011 promise made to teachers that the district would invest any new money it received to add back school days or restore salary concessions the union made in past negotiations.
Calling the salary increase a mirage, Lashley said 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 amounts to less than a 1 percent increase, she said.
"On the surface it looks great," Lashley said. "But it's really only a .78 percent increase."
Superintendent Phil Long disagreed, stating the total compensation package offered by the district would be the second-highest in Southern Oregon.
Long noted that the district's classified employees and administrators already have eliminated the early retirement benefit, picked up the PERS payments and seen their health insurance payments capped. The cost of benefits for the district had risen from $22 million to $32 million over the past decade, while class sizes were increased and school days cut, he said.
Lashley said the district and the teachers are not "too far apart on compensation."
The bigger issue, she said, is long-standing contract protections that the district proposes to change. Layoff procedures, school-to-school transfers for teachers and even how many classes secondary teachers might be required to teach remain sticking points for the two sides, she said.
"We are miles and miles apart in language and working conditions," Lashley said.
Lashley accused the district of canceling Monday's meeting to avoid facing teachers who have come to recent meetings, she said.
"More and more teachers were showing up in support of the negotiations. We want to get to the table and get to a fair contract," Lashley said.
Thomas said board members traveled to Portland last week for a multi-day training session that began Thursday. Most returned to the area on Sunday, so the board has had no time to go through the final figures prepared by the district's business office, he said.
Lashley said the bargaining team doesn't have a business office to crunch its numbers.
"I have zero sympathy," she said. "We worked from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on ours."
If the district's contract offer remains unacceptable to the teachers, striking would be an option, Lashley said.
About 12,000 students and 600 teachers would be affected by a strike.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.