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Medford School District, teachers resolve some issues

The Medford School District and its teachers union came to a tentative agreement Tuesday on a portion of their labor contract and will meet again Friday to continue negotiations on a handful of contentious sticking points, Medford Superintendent Phil Long said.

The district announced the developments between the two parties on six articles within the contract late Tuesday.

In December, when the Medford School Board unanimously voted to implement a new contract for teachers without support or approval from the teachers union, the district announced that the parties tentatively agreed on seven articles of the contract — bringing the total number of tentatively agreed upon articles to 13 of the 18.

However, portions of the contract that have been the most disputed by the two parties, such as wage increases, Public Employees Retirement System contribution requirements for teachers and early retirement benefits for teachers, are not a part of the latest tentative agreement.

Articles in the contract covering "School Calendar and Work Year," "Basic Compensation," "Working Conditions During School Days," "Insurance Benefits" and "Retirement Benefits" still are under negotiation.

The contract's memorandum of agreement also is under negotiation.

After nine hours of closed-door negotiations Tuesday between the superintendent, School Board and the Medford Education Association union, Long said the negotiations were "focused, respectful and productive."

"It's been a long day. It's been a good day though," he said.

Within the contract, the six articles tentatively agreed upon Tuesday outline "Contract Duration and Conditions," the district's "Grievance" process, "Bargaining Unit Member Rights," covering the rights of teachers, "Reduction in Force," or layoff policy, "Extra Compensation," and "Joint Committees."

State Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, urged school district administrators and teachers' union representatives in a letter to negotiate a contract that is fair to both parties "under an umbrella of mutual respect."

Bates said he sent the letter to Medford Education Association president Cheryl Lashley late last week, then to Medford School Board members Monday. Long also received a copy of the letter.

"The worst thing we can do is strike," Bates said Tuesday. "If we go out on strike, it'll be settled in a couple weeks, but the contract may not be that much different from what it is now, and teachers will get hurt, the board will get hurt, and most importantly, the students will get hurt."

Although not included in the negotiations, Bates said he has had conversations with those involved and felt motivated as a state senator, community member and grandfather of two Hoover Elementary students to encourage them to compromise for the good of the community.

"I've heard from teachers, administrators and families that were affected by the Eagle Point strike, and the results of the strike didn't make much difference," he said. "But the anger is really sad, and the ramifications will go on and on and on."

Bates said he doesn't want to pick sides, but he said the issue of class prep time, which "the new contract is trying to micromanage," should be worked out between the teachers and the principal at each site. He also thought there was room for some compromise in regard to the 6 percent PERS contributions.

"Neither side will get everything they want," he said. "There has to be compromise."

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or by email at tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at twitter.com/teresathomas_mt. Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

Clarification: This story has been updated to note that work still remains to be done.