The Medford School Board unanimously voted Friday to implement a new contract for teachers without support or approval from the teachers union.
The contract includes all of the financial pieces the district administration proposed in its last contract offer in November, but was amended to include four other changes in contract articles that teachers and the district team have negotiated since.
"This has been their plan all along," said union president Cheryl Lashley. "The law did not require them to implement."
Lashley and other union representatives were upset with the board's decision, though few were able to attend the 11 a.m. meeting because they were in school. About 50 retired teachers and community supporters showed up instead.
"We're really disappointed," Lashley told 12-year board member Tricia Prendergast after the meeting. "We thought you would stand with us."
The contract implementation came after a 10-hour mediation session Thursday, which Lashley described as frustrating and heartbreaking.
"We questioned the district's sincerity in seeking a settlement when, before we even began, they indicated that they planned on wrapping up the mediation at 4 p.m. While they remained until 6:30 p.m., they refused to engage in any meaningful discussion toward resolution," Lashley said in a news release Thursday night.
The implemented contract gives teachers a 12 percent pay increase over three years, with the initial 10 percent raises beginning Dec. 20 and retroactive to the beginning of the school year.
Teachers will receive checks averaging $400-$500 along with their next paycheck to cover the retroactive increase, the administration announced.
"You'll have reality stare you in the face when you get your first check," said board member Larry Nicholson. "It's important to get the financial pieces going."
Teachers say the raises will be eaten up by changes in their insurance plans and pensions.
Teachers will now be responsible for paying their 6 percent contribution into the Public Employees Retirement System pensions, something the district previously paid.
Health insurance coverage will be capped at $12,600 per year, and the district will sunset its early retirement option in March, instead offering $1,500 per year of work to teachers who are retiring.
The district school year has been extended by six student days at the secondary schools — to 176 days — and by four student days at the elementary level — to 174 days — plus two parent-teacher conference days.
Superintendent Phil Long said the administration is willing to continue meeting in small groups with union representatives to revise the contract and get it ratified. He said he believed it was necessary to implement a contract by the end of the cooling-off period in their negotiations, which is Dec. 19.
The articles revised since the district's last offer included an article about Medford Education Association dues and another about professional development funds and site committees.
Lashley said the union is willing to keep meeting with the administration, but said teachers will also schedule a meeting to decide whether to consider a strike vote.
She didn't know whether a strike would be likely, and said it was one of many options moving forward. If teachers did vote to strike, Oregon law requires they give the administration 10 days' notice.
Every board member — with the exception of Jeff Thomas, who was present via telephone and did not speak — expressed that the negotiation process was difficult and the decision to implement was not easy.
"This is not a decision that this board has reached lightly or quickly," said Kim Wallan. "We have spent many months trying to figure out a way through this."
Board member Sally Killen, a retired teacher and a member of the district bargaining team, said she hoped the two sides would continue to meet and negotiate.
"We've spent a long time negotiating. It's been interesting, it's been frustrating and it's been fruitful at times," she said. "But we can still talk and we can still meet."
Teresa Ristow is a freelance reporter living in Ashland. Email her at email@example.com.