Less than a month after they wrapped up contentious contract negotiations with the teachers union that sparked an 11-day strike, Medford School District officials returned to the bargaining table to start negotiations with the classified employees' union.
Eleven-member teams from both sides met Monday morning for their first full day of negotiations. The teams "made steady progress" and exchanged proposals before breaking at about 3 p.m. to meet in their respective groups, said Superintendent Phil Long.
The Oregon School Employees Association Medford Chapter 15 represents the district's nearly 500 classified employees, including secretaries, educational assistants, librarians, computer lab aides and maintenance and information technology personnel.
The classified employees' current, two-year contract expires June 30.
"We want a reasonable agreement as quickly as possible," said Cindy Drought, an OSEA field representative.
"It's everybody's hope that this be a smooth bargaining," she added.
Long couldn't agree more.
"We are expecting to resolve this fairly quickly," he said. "But we need to make sure the concerns of both parties are attended to and that we are very clear on what our intent is in the final contract language."
All articles of the contract are open for discussion as no tentative agreements have been made. The union is proposing some language changes, although Long and Drought declined to comment on the specifics.
Three or four small groups with members from both sides were scheduled to meet Wednesday to work on some of the language, and another full day of bargaining is set for Friday.
At the school board meeting Monday evening, Clag Offutt, a math teacher at North Medford High School, encouraged the Medford School Board and district administration to consider the significance of the classified employees' roles in the schools.
"Our librarian has more personal contact with students than any of the teachers at North," he said.
The district phased out early retirement benefits for classified employees over the past two years. Classified staff now pay their 6 percent contribution to the Public Employees Retirement System and have caps on their health insurance benefits. All three issues were points of contention in the recent teachers' negotiations.
Classified staff made a lot of changes in the 2012 bargaining session "so the scope of the discussion (now) is much narrower so it makes for a much more direct negotiation," Long said.
"The commitment is to do this carefully and methodically and thoughtfully," he said.