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Veto worries Medford district

It's unclear what a veto by a regional bargaining council of Ashland's decision to cut school days might foretell about the Medford School District's similar efforts to shore up a severe budget shortfall.

The Southern Oregon Bargaining Council on Monday voted against Ashland School District's agreement with its teachers' union to cut five days from the calendar to address a $380,000 shortfall.

Medford, a school district more than four times the size of Ashland, has asked its teachers' union to agree to trim 18 work days from this school year to offset $5.6 million in state funding losses.

The Medford union, in turn, has said it would be willing to cut some work days provided that the district settles an employment contract that has been in negotiations since last spring, said Robert Young, union president.

An outstanding question is whether the SOBC, which includes Young, could veto an agreement to cut work days in Medford.

Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long said the Medford district does not recognize the SOBC's authority to veto union decisions.

The Medford teachers' union, however, does recognize the council's veto power, Young said.

"We actually submit our tentative contracts to the SOBC for approval," Young said.

The SOBC, which consists of elected union presidents and vice presidents from nearly all of the school districts in Jackson and Josephine counties, was formed as an umbrella association to protect the interests of the unions and to share information about bargaining.

Rarely, however, has it exercised its veto power, as it did this week in the case of Ashland. Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said the district would work to amend language in the proposal to address the SOBC's concerns, which she declined to specify.

It's unknown whether the SOBC's decision could be an indicator of how the council would respond to similar proposals in Medford and other districts across Southern Oregon. School districts around the state are faced with a financial crisis resulting from job losses statewide. The job losses made a significant dent in state income tax revenues, a pillar of state government operations.

An agreement with teachers to cut days is paramount to making up the $5.6 million shortfall in the district's budget because of the economic crisis, Long said.

"We cannot make any reductions in contract (work) days until we have an agreement from the teachers' association," Long said. "If we were not to get that agreement, the only other recourse we have is to reduce staff, which would mean laying off people."

Young said the Medford union's position is that it is willing to cut some work days to help the district cope with state funding losses.

"A memorandum would not be agreed to without a tentative agreement on an overall contract," Young said. "Eighteen days is a lot of money. It would be tough to swallow."

Not all of the 18 days the Medford district is considering cutting would be school days, said Todd Bloomquist, Medford schools human resources director. There are various days throughout the year when teachers work but students are adjourned, including a staff development day on May 1 and Memorial Day weekend, Bloomquist said.

"We are going to try to cut what has the least impact on students," he said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.