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Deal reached with Phoenix-Talent teachers

Phoenix-Talent School District officials and members of the teacher's union worked until nearly dawn Friday before reaching an agreement that would give teachers a small pay increase and a say in how the district would cut days from the calendar next year if necessary.

The tentative agreement needs to be ratified by the Southern Oregon Bargaining Council, which represents teachers in the district, according to school board member Craig Prewitt.

"We think we have come to a place where both sides can agree," Prewitt said.

The mediation session began at 5 p.m. Thursday and wrapped up at 5 a.m. Friday morning, Prewitt said.

The bleary-eyed district and union representatives made their cases in front of a state mediator.

"When 5 a.m. rolled around, we looked at each other and couldn't believe we were still in there," Prewitt said.

They finally hammered out the tentative plan after 12 hours of negotiation.

Under the proposed contract, teachers would receive a one-half percent pay increase next year and the district would pay an additional $30 per month into the employees' medical benefits premiums, Prewitt said.

The pay bump comes on top of teachers' yearly step pay increases. Veteran teachers who have reached the limit of their step raises will receive a stipend of $850 this year and $750 next year, Prewitt said.

The two sides also agreed that they would come together next year to decide how to cut days from the calendar should the district be faced with another budget shortfall.

"Of course, we don't want to cut days, but if we have to, we have put a mechanism in place that we will have a discussion on how to do that," Prewitt said.

Prewitt said the district has not had to cut days for 10 years. He said the district won't know whether it will need to scale back its calendar until the state releases its economic forecasts in the coming months.

"We could cut two days, we could cut seven days," he said. "It's all about that economic forecast."

The teacher's union will decide whether to ratify the agreement during its next meeting on March 12, Prewitt said.

Contacted Friday, a teacher's union representative declined comment.

The plan comes after a tense bargaining process that began in January 2011. The negotiations reached a low point earlier this month when the district filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the union. The district alleged the union was not bargaining in good faith.

Prewitt said he hopes the union will accept the contract and look toward next school year without negotiations hanging over the district.

"We have a great group of teachers here," he said. "We want to keep them in the classrooms and connecting with kids."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.