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Schools' 'best offer' rejected; strike still an option

The teacher's union and Medford School District officials remain far apart in what has been a contentious contract negotiation.

The school district announced its "best offer" to the Medford Education Association Friday afternoon, following an 18-hour negotiation the previous day.

The proposal did not fly with the union.

"We are yet again very disappointed with the district's offer," said Cheryl Lashley, union president and teacher at Howard Elementary.

The district says it's offering a three-year contract calling for an 8-percent salary increase the first year and 1-percent increases the last two years. Teachers with 15 or fewer years of experience will receive salary increases of 3.4 percent a year for three years, with cost-of-living adjustments.

In addition, eligible teachers would receive up to eight years of insurance coverage at district expense if they retire by March 2014. Teachers would pay no more for their insurance, but in the third year the cost could increase depending on how well they manage to help control their health care costs.

It's not clear if this is the district's final offer. The two sides are scheduled to meet again on Nov. 12.

Lashley says the salary increase is a mirage, as the district seeks to increase its calendar by nearly a week without increasing teacher compensation for the extra days.

Also, the teachers are asked to pay their Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) costs, which would consume the salary increase.

"We would be looking at a one and a quarter percent cut in pay with this proposal," Lashley said.

Lashley hammered the district for "ignoring" a 2011 memorandum signed by union leaders and Superintendant Phil Long that stated the district promised to invest any new money it would receive to add back school days or restore salary concessions the union made in past negotiations.

The union accepted these concessions when the economy tanked in 2008, but as the economy has improved the teachers are looking to begin receiving the salary increases inked in the memorandum.

The district received $93 million from the state in the last biennium and $101 million in the current one.

The union believes the district should use some of this cash for teacher salary increases.

"They have the money in their approved budget, but are choosing not to spend it on teachers," Lashley said.

If the two sides do not close the gulf between them in the near future a district-wide strike could occur.

"Of course, no one wants that," she said. "We want to get to work and be with the kids. We hope to avoid a strike, but it's a possibility."

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