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MailTribune.com
  • Union, district head back to table

    Long: 'We don't see the benefit' of project cost savings during strike
  • Even as contract talks were to resume today between the Medford School District and its striking teachers union, cost-comparison scenarios released by the district suggest there will be significant savings each day teachers remain away from the job.
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  • Even as contract talks were to resume today between the Medford School District and its striking teachers union, cost-comparison scenarios released by the district suggest there will be significant savings each day teachers remain away from the job.
    Those figures, however, are hypothetical and not tied to actual or expected scenarios in the work stoppage, which began Thursday morning and led to the cancellation of classes through Monday.
    The district would not comment on how many of its teachers might cross picket lines if no settlement is reached before Tuesday, or on how many substitute teachers it has hired in preparation.
    "I hope I never have to say that number," said Superintendent Phil Long, referring to the number of teachers who have notified the district they will not strike.
    Regarding the substitutes, who would teach Medford students beginning Tuesday, Long said "we have exceeded the minimum-number target that we had ... we're prepared."
    For instance, if the district were to hire 255 substitutes and 45 of its teachers do not go on strike, the cost-comparison analysis projected that Medford per day would spend $87,210 on substitute teacher payroll and $23,288 on salary and benefits for MEA members choosing to teach.
    On strike days when school is in session, the district would spend $244,898 per day to cover all expenses related to instruction, including: substitute teacher lodging, school meals, security, MEA teacher health care benefits — only if the strike continues into March — overtime for classified employees, travel cancellations, advertising for substitutes, travel expenses for substitutes, supplies and postage and miscellaneous items, according to the district's cost comparison.
    If there were no strike, according to the district's cost comparison, based of estimations from the 2012-2013 school year MEA contract, the daily cost incurred by the district to pay the salary and benefits, excluding early retirement, of MEA teachers is $302,738 per day.
    Long said the school district has hired about 50 security guards through Action Security Inc. of Medford and San Diego-based Off Duty Officers Inc. of San Diego — costing the district about $35,000 per day.
    "We have 24-hour security, because we want to make sure we protect our property and mischief doesn't happen," Long said.
    Although there are overall savings resulting from the strike, Long said, the district would rather not pad its budget in this manner.
    "We don't see the benefit of the cost savings ... because the cost is among other things: it's three days of instruction that didn't occur for kids, it's teachers who are really skilled at teaching and meeting kids' needs, who aren't using those skills walking the picket line — and I don't think that's what any of them went into the business for and I totally understand that — and it's families that have had to plan for child care at the last minute," Long said.
    An estimated 500 teachers on strike for the second day picketed outside the district's administrative offices at Central Medford High School, according to Chris Geankoplis, a seventh grade social studies teacher at Hedrick Middle School, who was helping keep tally for the Medford Education Association.
    "We had a little more than 500 people out here today," Geankoplis said, waving goodbye to his colleagues and fellow picketers, who began to disband at about 4 p.m.
    There are about 600 teachers in the school district.
    The line of energetic protesters stretched nearly a half-mile around the block, with teachers chanting and waving signs at passing automobiles in the rain.
    Inside the building, which was secured by guards, the sounds of picketers and frequent horn honking by supporters driving past were clearly audible.
    "We've had a heightened level of energy outside, and I think it's been a little harder getting in and out, but I anticipated that," Long said, adding picketers gave him an earful of their opinions on his way into the building, but were respectful.
    When negotiations between the teachers union and district restart at 9 a.m. today, the district is expected put forth the first contract proposal, Long said.
    "I am really hopeful that the association and the district can come to an agreement (Saturday) and that it can be a three-year agreement, so that we can have time to heal and rebuild some of the things that have happened between us in our community," Long said. "I always expect, hope for the best but prepare for the worst, and then we're never disappointed, but I do think the opportunity is (Saturday) to settle this and then we can get everyone back to work on Monday, with kids on Tuesday."
    Geankoplis said MEA has "a good offer on the table ... If the board is willing to move from their intransigent position then the strike would be settled (Saturday)."
    "We are teachers, we just want to teach."
    Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.
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