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Medford teachers, district swap proposals; negotiations to resume Wednesday

As the clock ticked closer to one of the biggest teachers' strikes in Oregon since the 1980s, a state mediator shuttled between Medford administrators to union representatives for nine hours today before both sides took a break from negotiations.

Teachers and administrators swapped proposals twice during the day, the first hopeful sign in weeks of negotiations that have turned contentious at times.

Medford School District officials and Medford Education Association members met in separate rooms, with a state mediator acting as the official buffer and providing "shuttle diplomacy," Superintendent Phil Long said.

At the start of the meeting, both teams agreed to keep contract proposals confidential.

"It means that we are working out the pieces but can't share the pieces," Long said.

Long and MEA President Cheryl Lashley upheld their vow of secrecy and would not comment on what progress or concessions had been made during today's negotiations.

Negotiations began at 8 a.m. and both parties exchanged proposals twice before breaking for recess shortly after 5 p.m. Negotiations are to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

"We agreed we would work on some of the calculations," Long said.

Each of the district's 19 schools mailed letters to parents this afternoon with information about when and where classes will meet during the strike. District officials promised to make that information public Wednesday.

If a settlement isn't reached by Wednesday afternoon, classes will be canceled Thursday regardless of whether an agreement is reached late into the night, Long said.

The district is still looking for more substitute teachers to fill in for union members on strike but currently has sufficient staff to make its programs possible, Long said.

The district also has hired security officers to monitor the schools 24 hours a day. Those officers were at the district offices this afternoon, getting identification photos taken. They were told to pick up their uniforms Wednesday.

Five security officers will be posted at the high schools during the day and three at the elementary school, Long said.

"Sometime emotions cause people to act in ways they wouldn't normally," Long said.

— Teresa Thomas