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Medford teachers demand changes

More than 100 teachers attended the Medford School District board meeting Monday night to voice their concerns over contract negotiations.

Carrying lime green signs stating "Rebuild the Trust," the teachers softly chanted their slogan while the board members returned from an executive session and took their seats.

Several teachers spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, deeming the district's current offer unacceptable and insulting. The district is offering a 6 percent pay increase in exchange for adding six days to the school year, requiring teachers to pay their own retirement contributions, and implementing insurance caps.

Amy Wolfer, a parent and teacher with the district, said she felt "undervalued, unappreciated and disrespected" by the offer, which would remove language that protects a 40-hour workweek, particularly when teachers already work longer hours than that.

"Follow me home," Wolfer said, adding the board members would see her working late grading student papers.

The teachers took exception to an opinion piece in Sunday's Mail Tribune written by board members Kim Wallan and Sally Killen. Negotiating on behalf of the district, the pair stated the teachers had been offered "a good compensation package that treats the teachers fairly and provides a predictable, sustainable budget model that will allow us to educate future generations."

Killen and Wallan said teachers "need more time to do their jobs."

"Our intention in expanding the school year is to ease the daily workload, treat teachers as salaried professionals, and increase student learning time," they wrote.

The district has offered a pay raise of 6 percent in the first year and 1 percent in each of the next two years. With the current salary schedule, a teacher with no experience and a bachelor's degree earns $33,115. That teacher would earn $35,102 under the new contract. Teachers with more than 15 years' experience, who are not eligible for a step, would earn just under $67,000, Killen and Wallan stated.

Cherise Black, a middle school teacher with a master's degree, said she spent "tens of thousands of dollars" getting her education, only to be "treated like a Walmart employee" by the district.

"I made a lot of personal sacrifices, and I'm paying the costs," she said.

Nancy Carpenter is in her 31st year as an educator. Having worked in the Medford School District for the past 16 years, Carpenter said she was angered to learn she may lose up to one third of her salary under the district's current offer.

"This is just unconscionable to me," Carpenter said, adding she was looking at a loss of $20,000 or more.

The board's vice president, Ron Anderson, was the only member to speak to the teachers' comments. Anderson said he was not a member of the board's negotiating committee. But he had been a teacher for 35 years, he said.

Anderson suggested the teachers had been misinformed about the negotiations, but added he would be asking for more information about the current offer.

Richard Smith, a teacher with the district, also invited the board members to "walk a mile" in teachers' shoes. There is more to the job than teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, he said, adding many children come from troubled homes and unfortunate circumstances.

"We're helping raise (Medford's) children," Smith said.

Another area of dispute between the teachers and the district centers around insurance. Under the current contract, teachers pay 7 percent of their insurance premiums. The district self-insures its employees for their medical, dental and vision coverage. Under the district's offer, each employee would receive $1,050 per month to buy insurance from among several plans, according to Killen and Wallan.

Depending on how many family members they have and which plan they select, their cost per month will vary. "While premiums may increase in the future, our employees' prudent use of insurance benefits can help keep those costs under control," they wrote.

Joshua Wallace, a teacher and coach for the district for 11 years, makes about $54,000. Without the coaching stipend, Wallace's family of six would qualify for government food subsidies, he said.

"I guess I find it a little ironic," Wallace said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.