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MailTribune.com
  • School Board approves contract

    Both sides in strike say final outcome was fair
  • The Medford School Board unanimously approved a new labor contract with teachers, concluding a yearlong negotiation process.
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  • The Medford School Board unanimously approved a new labor contract with teachers, concluding a yearlong negotiation process.
    School principals, community members and teachers, many of them wearing their black Medford Education Association garb, attended the school board meeting Monday evening to see the contract to completion.
    The board voted 7-0 in favor of the new, three-year contract and called off the state of emergency that's been in effect since Jan. 29.
    District officials and teachers said the contract was fair even if it wasn't ideal.
    "There's always going to be people on either side that wanted something else, but it's fair and livable, and it gets us back to doing our jobs," said Lisa North, an MEA spokeswoman and elementary school instructional coach, after the meeting.
    District and union bargaining teams signed a tentative agreement, Feb. 21 — 366 days after the first negotiations session Feb. 20, 2013. The tentative agreement ended an 11-workday strike of nearly 600 teachers. And on Friday, union members ratified the contract.
    "Throughout this whole issue, it has never been an issue of greed but an issue of priorities and limited resources and how you distribute them," said board member Ron Andersen at Monday's meeting.
    The new contract promised teachers a 1.9 percent cost-of-living increase in the first year, 2.5 percent in the second year and 3 percent in the third year.
    Superintendent Phil Long said the increase in the third year alone will cost the district $800,000.
    However, the district will save $600,000 in the second year of the contract as it has agreed to pick up the teachers' 6 percent PERS contributions, thus decreasing payroll costs, Long explained.
    Both sides also agreed to 190 contract days, extra support for special education teachers, flexible prep time and a gradual phase-out of early retirement benefits.
    "You can't say there are winners and losers," North said. "We got a raise, but made concessions in early retirement."
    Under the contract, teachers will pay 5 percent of their health insurance premiums in the first year, 7 percent in the second year and 10 percent in the third. However, the district will put $250,000 in the insurance fund to offset the teachers' expenses in the third year.
    Despite the more expensive contract, Long said he still believes the district will be able to accomplish its goals of hiring more teachers and retaining programs.
    After approving the contract, the board heard comments from teachers in the audience.
    The first to the mic was Blake Weller, a former teacher at Central Point Elementary School and chief petitioner of an effort to recall board members Sally Killen, Kim Wallan, Marlene Yesquen and Jeff Thomas. He said the School Board was responsible for the strike, and if board members weren't willing to answer for their actions, they all should resign.
    Jureen Gardner, a fifth-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, acknowledged to the board that she had considered resigning multiple times over the past six months but stayed on for her students and her professional family.
    "This district has spent thousands and thousands of dollars on professional development for PLCs (Professional Learning Communities)," she said, "and yet we just came through the best PLC activity."
    Even though the contract is approved, North said teachers have been hurt by the district's "combative, dictatorial style of leadership." She said the trust between board members and teachers was broken and now needs to be repaired.
    "If people are given the opportunity to process, the chance to talk and the freedom to grieve, then normal healthy healing will occur," she said.
    Board Chairman Jeff Thomas said later that the board will work as hard as it can to mend relationships.
    "You repair relationships one person at a time," he said.
    Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or by email at tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.
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