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MailTribune.com
  • Five myths about the district's position in bargaining

  • As the Medford School District prepares for the threat of a strike Feb. 6 by the teachers union, I've heard plenty from parents and other community members. Some are skeptical, but most others have voiced their support for our insistence on a fiscally responsible contract that serves our students' long-term needs.
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  • As the Medford School District prepares for the threat of a strike Feb. 6 by the teachers union, I've heard plenty from parents and other community members. Some are skeptical, but most others have voiced their support for our insistence on a fiscally responsible contract that serves our students' long-term needs.
    Regardless of their stance, many of those on the sidelines are having difficulty sorting through the rumors and misinformation floating around. Emotions are high, but we need to put our feelings aside and address these important issues factually.
    We've all heard that the first casualty of any conflict is the truth. Misinformation can confuse the real underlying issues. As we work to resolve our contract, I want to dispel five myths about our negotiations that seem to be adding to the confusion and anxiety.
    Myth 1: The Legislature provided more money for staff raises
    The Oregon Legislature met in a special session this past September and passed legislation adding $100 million in funding for K-12 public schools. That funding is not available until next year.
    The intent of the Legislature was explicit: "hire additional teachers and/or other educational professionals in order to decrease class sizes and to add back days to the school year in order to increase instructional time for students." The current district offer restores a full 190-day school-year calendar and adds staff to work directly with students. The budget report and measure summary is at http://bit.ly/MTX0Dp. The district's priorities align with legislative intent: Add staff to help kids learn and add more time for learning.
    Myth 2: The district is unwilling to compromise
    The district has been transparent in the changes it has been willing to make throughout the bargaining process. Current and previous offers have been posted on the district's public website. Press releases and news items on the district's website have announced each compromise the district has made along the way. The district has tentatively agreed on 13 of the 19 contract articles. It has increased its salary offer from 3.2 percent to 8 percent to 10 percent in the first year and adjusted its position on just cause, lay-off criteria, the 40-hour work week, and preparation time for teachers.
    The district is not only willing to compromise, it already has on many issues the union said were important. We are willing to meet to resolve the remaining contract issues.
    Myth 3: The district is keeping too much money in reserves
    For more than a decade, funding for Oregon's public schools has been volatile, to say the least. In four of the last six biennia, the state has reneged on the funding it promised. One year, districts were informed that they would not receive the last payment, and some districts had to borrow money to make payroll. Because of prudent decisions by the district in partnership with our employees and the community, we have had to make only minimal layoffs. The past three years, the district has used reserves as the shock absorber as costs have escalated and funding continues to fluctuate. In the coming biennium (2015-16) the district anticipates another large increase in the amount we must pay to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), additional expenses to provide state-mandated full-day kindergarten and elementary physical education teachers, and ever-increasing health benefit costs.
    As stewards of taxpayer funds, we must not make a bad decision today under threat of strike that will haunt us in two years.
    Myth 4. The district is forcing teachers to strike
    Only teachers can make that decision. The union has taken the hard stand here, not us. The district has not walked out on bargaining sessions. While there are several items the district has taken a strong position on, it is on issues that are directly related to our long-term financial stability and sustainability. We have been up front with the union about those issues and have been willing to work through a number of other issues related to working conditions and equitable distribution of work.
    Even with the very real threat of a strike by the union, we are committed to bargaining in good faith.
    Myth 5. Teachers are not being fairly compensated
    The district is actually offering more for teachers than it has for any other district employee group. In a nutshell, all other district employees have already accepted the changes in early retirement, insurance caps and PERS pickup. For that, administrators, managers, and confidential/exempt employees received a 41/2 percent salary increase. Classified employees received a 7 percent wage increase. Teachers are being offered a 10 percent salary increase in the first year alone for these same contract changes.
    With the current district offer, Medford teachers become the highest-compensated teachers in Jackson County.
    Phil Long started as a teacher with the district in 1984 and is completing his ninth year as superintendent.
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