There's not enough money to cover all the gaps that have been created over the past decade for the Medford School District and its teachers. That's an issue that will take statewide changes.
But the school district's leadership can take some real steps to cover the lack of respect that teachers say they are feeling in their contentious contract negotiations. That "respect issue" has taken a back seat to finances in the discussions, but it's very real to teachers who have seen class sizes grow, duties expand and wages stagnate.
With that backdrop, amid a strike that grows more contentious by the day, it's been puzzling to us that the district has chosen to take on not only financial issues, but also workplace issues — prep time in particular — that affect the quality of the teachers' work lives.
With negotiations resuming today, the district could take a significant step toward resolving the respect shortfall by dropping proposals that diminish teachers' control over their prep time and over their classrooms.
When you study the current offers by the district and the Medford Education Association, there's a lot of common ground and a closing gap on the differences. There's been movement on both sides in health insurance and early retirement. The salary offers over a proposed three-year deal are a percentage point or two apart. Taken in total, it's still a lot of money, but the gap has closed considerably.
But there remains a large gap elsewhere, in Article 12 of the proposed contracts, titled "Working Conditions During School Days." It essentially deals with prep time, some classroom sizes and special education.
The teachers are asking that the district maintain the current prep time policy, while the district is asking for more flexibility. To teachers, flexibility for the district equals less certainty of what time they will have and when they will have it in the school day.
The teachers also want assurances that when two grade levels are combined in one class, the class size will be limited, since teachers are faced with preparing multiple curricula and meeting different benchmarks. And they want limits on how many special needs students are placed in a single classroom.
Those seem like reasonable requests and, again, it's puzzling why the district is choosing these fights at this time. Perhaps it's an attempt to divide and conquer by engaging the teachers on multiple fronts.
That may be good strategy if you're fighting a war, but this is the district negotiating with its largest employee group. If it is moved to use battlefield tactics in an effort to prevail, it has already lost the war.
The district should back off of these classroom issues and focus on resolving the financial sticking points. It's not asking a lot, it's just asking for a show of respect.