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Teachers walk out of talks

A negotiation session between bargaining teams from the Medford School District and Medford Education Association ended abruptly Friday morning when union representatives walked away from the table, saying the district was unwilling to budge on its latest contract offer.

"We came ready to negotiate all the issues today, including the financial," Nancy Egan, co-chairwoman of the association's bargaining team, said Friday. "At our last bargaining session (Jan. 14), we had presented a proposal and were expecting a counter offer today. There was no counter offer, and they (district officials) reiterated there will be no other financial packages.

"I think they were hoping that we would come with a new proposal."

The latest bargaining session was short — less than an hour — compared to the three 10-hour sessions held earlier this month.

A date for another bargaining session has not been set, Egan said.

Toward the end of the meeting, Superintendent Phil Long acknowledged it had been a long, emotional week for everyone involved.

On Thursday evening, nearly 600 teachers assembled at the Ramada Inn, and the majority voted to reject the district's Jan. 14 proposal and authorize a strike if the bargaining team deemed it necessary.

Under Oregon law, union leaders must give the district 10 days' notice of its intent to strike before teachers can walk off their jobs. This notice has not yet been issued.

"We are really hoping the district comes back to settle the contract before we are pushed to strike," Egan said.

Negotiations began early last year. In December, the district implemented its offer, much to the chagrin of the teachers.

Long said the district team was hoping to negotiate a three-year contract with the MEA team at Friday's meeting. The association is proposing a two-year contract.

"We think (a three-year contract) provides stability in predicting our budget and stability in terms of our employees knowing what the compensation package is and planning for that," Long said.

"We are already a quarter of the way through this contract if it's a two-year contract."

However, association representatives showed no indication they wanted to discuss that, Long said.

"If we don't hear from them, we will certainly reach out to them next week," he said.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4479 or by email at tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.