If the last week has taught us anything, it's this — forcing teachers into a strike is bad for kids. This begs the question, why are districts pushing teachers against the wall instead of collaborating on contracts?
It becomes clear — districts are taking advantage of the last few years of economic crisis, combined with overworked and overwhelmed teachers, to ransack their contracts. Educators within the state and across the country are experiencing similar upheavals to contract negotiations — which result in upheavals in their communities.
In Medford alone, we saw the district refuse to take any ownership of how many times they have moved the bargaining goal posts. Changing bargaining methods from collaborative to traditional, backpedaling on previously identified common ground, implementing a final offer, and bringing counter offers with insignificant changes were all part of this playbook. In the meantime, the district used smoke and mirrors to conceal their intent — a power grab. They wanted to take the professionals' voice out of education.
This leads into the next play, which also negatively affects our students and communities: Districts paint the teachers as "the bad guys." The intent is clear: equate educators with greed at every opportunity and disregard any comments from those same professionals about how contract language impacts student learning. And all the while, the district takes funds it could use to settle a contract and instead spends it on scabs and hotels and endless training of people who should already be able to teach.
I'm talking about teacher strikes here. We saw districts like Eagle Point, Reynolds, Gresham-Barlow, Rogue River and now Medford and Portland spend enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars on strikes instead of investing in teachers and education. A Medford strike would easily exceed a half-million dollars per week.
How does one come to that half-million-dollar figure? Start with inadequately staffed buildings filled with out-of-town substitutes, the compensation for whom will run more than $100,000 each day (remember, all this to avoid settling a fair contract with teachers). If you factor in lodging costs, providing three meals a day ($30 for dinner alone), reimbursing subs to commute to and from their home towns each weekend at 56 cents a mile, as well as costs to provide the promised security at each of the open schools (about half of the facilities in the district, under Medford's stated plan), then the total climbs to more than $575,000 a week.
This doesn't even take into account several one-time expenditures: a full-page ad in the Mail Tribune runs about $4,500, money invested as part of an ongoing PR push aimed at tearing down teachers (many of whom who have put in decades of service to our kids); ads in out-of-town media to recruit replacements; multiple districtwide mailings to communicate the plans for this crisis (the one they created themselves), plus expensive out-of-town lawyers — and you've hit over a half-million each week.
A crisis entirely within the district's power to avert if it took that same amount of money and settled the contract.
There is a very simple way out of this. Avoid spending more than $100,000 dollars a day to replace our qualified educators. Keep kids in school by settling a fair contract. Put these resources toward a fair settlement that invests those same dollars into retaining and recruiting qualified teachers — then give them the space to do what they do best. Teach our kids.
All districts can do this. Medford can do this. Portland can do this. We've seen it in the past. Drop the agendas, negotiate fairly and keep the kids in school with the teachers that they know and trust. All it takes is a School Board that is committed to doing what is best for our kids. Invest in teachers and kids, not a strike. Our kids are worth it.
John Doty teaches theater arts at North Medford High School.