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Phoenix-Talent district files complaint against teachers

After spending more than a year bargaining with teachers to finalize a new contract, the Phoenix-Talent School District has filed an unfair labor practices complaint, alleging the teacher's union isn't bargaining in good faith.

The district alleges that the Southern Oregon Bargaining Council, which represents teachers in the district, isn't bargaining fairly and is unnecessarily dragging out negotiations to "frustrate the bargaining process rather than reach an agreement."

The teacher's union disputes the allegations.

"We believe the charges are baseless," said Jane Bilodeau, an Oregon Education Association consultant who has represented teachers through the bargaining process.

"We have never attempted to bargain in bad faith. And we will continue to bargain in good faith."

The bargaining council and the district began negotiating in January of 2011. For the first six months, the district and teachers butted heads over a handful of contract articles, including one that would allow the district to cut school days in the event of an unforeseen revenue shortfall.

According to the current contract, the district can negotiate cutting days in the event of a revenue shortfall under a 150-day negotiation timeline with teachers. The changed language would expedite the process and leave a shorter period of negotiation for cutting days.

"When the district is faced with a major shortfall, it has the choice of cutting either days or staff," said board member Nate Shinn in a memo to the district in late January. "The district believes the best choice is to cut days and preserve teachers' jobs."

The teachers union has remained steadfast that the district does not need to change this language and has adequate funds for its contract proposal, which it first presented to the district in July.

In his memo, Shinn said the bargaining process has been "challenging and protracted," leaving the board frustrated.

"The union is more interested in playing games and engaging in bargaining tactics than reaching settlement," Shinn wrote. "Unfortunately, the board feels that it is impossible to reach settlement with a union that is focused on tactics and showmanship rather than the critical issues facing our district and staff."

According to the district, after a series of bargaining meetings since last July, the teacher's union has chosen to revert to a July 5 contract proposal that already was rejected by the district. The union presented the July 5 proposal, verbatim, at a December meeting.

During a school board meeting Feb. 16, teachers responded to Shinn's memo with frustration, releasing a letter of their own that was signed by many teachers in the district.

"You have deeply offended every single teacher in the district," said the memo, which asked that Shinn and the rest of the board act with a renewed sense of professionalism.

The next mediation session between the district and teachers is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at Orchard Hill Elementary in Medford.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.