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Back to school: Substitute teachers converge on Medford

Substitute teachers called in from throughout the state to handle classroom duties during the Medford Education Association strike met with Medford Schools administrators for more than five hours Sunday.

More than 200 substitutes were processed at Central Medford High School as the district prepared to reopen schools Tuesday on a half-day basis.

Buses hauling in the substitutes from Holiday Inn Express and Super 8 motels were greeted by about 150 picketing MEA members, according to Medford police. MEA teachers have been on strike since Thursday.

Without saying how many substitutes were on hand, Superintendent Phil Long said more were expected to arrive today.

"We had a good portion of them today, but additional ones are coming in tomorrow," he said. "We have more than we need to run all of our classes."

Long said there will be an initial check-in with a mediator Tuesday afternoon, but bargaining won't resume until Wednesday morning.

"We're anticipating going back to look at where we ended up," Long said. "We've been pushing it hard, just to make it to Wednesday.

We've had opportunities already to settle this contract, the challenge for us is to keep school going."

Telephone calls and messages to Medford Education Association and Oregon Education Association representatives were not returned.

Asked about the possibility of some teachers crossing picket lines today, the superintendent said he was uncertain.

"A lot of things are possible," Long said. "This is an individual decision for teachers. I realize we have a union involved here, but you are talking about people's livelihood."

Every day that Medford teachers are on strike equates to a pay loss of about one-half of 1 percent per day, based on a 190-day contract, officials said.

(Correction: District officials provided updated information after this story was published.)

"We've already been out two days so, teachers who are participating in the strike have seen a reduction in their pay of 1 percent for the contract year," Long said. "If we could settle (Wednesday) we could bring them back the next day, helping them set up the classrooms."

Some Ruch Elementary School teachers have privately indicated they may show up to work today.

I don't know all that's going on there," Long said. "What I do know is that the Ruch community has been very supportive of their school. I know there are a lot of community members pressing me to keep it open full schedule and everything. I have not confirmed with teachers what they are or aren't doing. We will have confirmation about staffing by (today)."

Preliminary assignments were handed out Sunday, Long said. However, regular teachers showing up won't be replaced.

"We aren't just having subs show up," Long said. "We'll do any adjustments (today)."

Subs from the Portland Metro area, Josephine County, the coast, and central and eastern Oregon — all with teaching experience — had their credentials reviewed and went through a drug screening that took longer than expected and delayed their exit from school property.

"We had a lot of interest in helping us through this interesting circumstance we find ourself in," Long said.

Long said he told the gathering of substitutes more than half of the students in the district come from homes with severe enough economic backgrounds that they qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.

"We wanted our substitutes to be sensitive to the fact there is a lot more going on than just the contract issues going on with teachers," he said.

Long said he was unsure if some of the subs brought filled similar roles during 2012 teacher's strike in Eagle Point.

"We didn't ask that in our questions," he said. "There probably are some people."

Starting Tuesday, South Medford will hold morning classes, with McLoughlin operating on the campus during the afternoon; North Medford will hold morning classes with Hedrick having classes on that campus in the afternoon; Central High, which uses computer assisted learning, will meet in the morning. Elementary schools are paired up: with Roosevelt at Jackson, Oak Grove at Howard, Lincoln at Kennedy, Wilson at Lone Pine, Jacksonville at Griffin Creek, and Jefferson at Hoover. Griffin Creek, Hoover, Kennedy, Lone Pine, Oak Grove and Roosevelt will meet mornings. Lincoln, Howard, Jackson, Jacksonville, Jefferson and Wilson will have class in the afternoon. Washington and Ruch will have half-days on their own campuses during the morning.

Long said combining the locations allowed the district to increase the number of support staff at each school.

"By doubling up it allows us to concentrate our support staff to make sure we don't have anyone get isolated out there. "Additionally, our classified employees know all of our kids so they are going to be reassuring the kids during this transition, however short it may be."

The school bus schedule can be found on the district website at https://www.medford.k12.or.us/News.asp?NewsID=1815

The school assignments and times are found on the district website at https://www.medford.k12.or.us/News.asp?NewsID=1807