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Teachers rally for pay, benefits

Medford district agrees to some concessions after negotiations

Medford Mail Tribune

About 200 teachers converged on the Oregon Education Association building at South Pacific Highway Monday to show support for a teachers bargaining team now negotiating a new contract with the Medford School District.

Wearing blue shirts, the teachers union hallmark color, and sunglasses to shield the late afternoon sunshine, teachers cheered and clapped for their bargaining team just three hours before district officials made new concessions on pay and benefits.

The district wants us to work longer hours, have more duties, spend more nights at school functions and pay more for insurance, said Sally Killen, the teachers union's chief negotiator and an English teacher at Hedrick Middle School. Do they respect us?

No, the teachers shouted.

The Medford district employee unions have been in negotiations since February for new contracts, which set salaries, benefits and duties. The existing contracts for the district's 600 teachers and 450 support staff members expire June 30.

— Medford teachers say the teachers' strike in Rogue River Thursday and Friday has sparked conversation behind the scenes about what lengths teachers are willing to go if district officials don't compromise on issues of pay, benefits and preparation time.

Some teachers at the rally Monday said they would be willing to strike if the district doesn't yield on pay, benefits and working conditions.

Just three hours after the rally, district officials engaged in negotiations with the teachers union agreed to increase its earlier offer of a 1.5-percent annual salary hike without extras for seniority to 1.75 percent each year.

Teachers now receive a 3.4-percent annual pay raise with a step for seniority.

Officials also agreed to create a committee to reexamine the district's health insurance program to find out whether the district might be able to save money by getting a new package or provider.

The district's previous offer called for increasing employees' share of health insurance premiums.

The latest offer also includes giving teachers a minimum of 50 minutes preparation time, removing the limit on the number of mandatory staff meetings and adding an average of 17 minutes to the elementary class day.

District officials also propose that teachers take on supervision duties at lunch, recess and before and after school to reduce the expense of campus monitors.

Teachers say their place is in the classroom, especially during a time when the federal government mandates that pupils reach certain benchmarks in math and reading.

District officials said they may be able to keep campus monitors if they can achieve enough savings in employee salaries and benefits in the upcoming contract.

Teachers have asked to maintain the terms of their existing contract, including pay, benefits, the limit on staff meetings, stipends for retirees, more than 50 minutes of preparation time and no supervision duties outside the classroom. They say they also want controls on class sizes, which approach 40 pupils in some cases.

We are not asking for a lot, said June Buck, former teachers union president and a retired teacher. We just want to stop giving (things) up.

She noted that Medford teachers have given up about &

36;13 million's worth of eliminated positions, cut work days and lowered benefits.

We keep getting asked to do more work, have more students and pay freezes, she said.

District officials say they would like to maintain teachers' current pay schedule and benefits but cannot do so because decreasing state funding has put a pinch on the district budget.

Our proposal is respectful, said Dan Zaklan, the district's head negotiator and human resources director. It is what we can offer to do given the circumstances.

This is a difficult time with limited resources and this is the first time we have had negotiations in several years.

He said the pay offer is comparable to what most teachers receive in the state.

Jeffrey Kinsella, a second-grade teacher at Jackson Elementary, said he doesn't want to see a decline in pay and benefits nor an increase in duties outside of the classroom.

I've already seen bare bones, said Kinsella, who worked in inner city schools in Los Angeles for eight years. I don't want to see this district get to that point.

Teachers rally for pay, benefits"pachen@mailtribune.com.