Emails, letters take 'nasty' tone in school contract negotiations
"Nasty," "passionate" and often anonymous letters are flooding the mailboxes and inboxes of Medford School Board members as contract negotiations drag on with the teachers' union.
"I got five of them today," board member Sally Killen said Thursday. "Most of them are just passionate letters expressing their frustration."
The board and the teachers' union have held three negotiation sessions since the board implemented the latest contract on Dec. 20 without the union's approval. On Tuesday, the district asked the Medford Education Association's bargaining team to present the district's latest offer to its members, but the union has yet to respond.
Board Chairman Jeff Thomas said he averages about 15 negative letters a day sent to his home. One postcard had a photo of a man in his underwear with a gun, and read something like, "Give us back our money."
"Every time I get this kind of mail, it's not just me that sees it," Thomas said. "It's probably my two daughters and my wife. It's not the way that you try to collaborate and come to a decision that is good for our community and the kids in our community."
Although all the board members have received this kind of mail, Kim Wallan seems to have endured the brunt of the public outrage, Thomas said.
"We get at least three postcards or letters every day," Wallan said. "My husband screens them. He doesn't let me see very many of them. They call names, and they are very rarely signed. ... Some have images that could be perceived as threatening."
One night last fall, Wallan thought she heard some ruckus outside her house. The next morning she discovered that her home had been egged. The troublemakers also had left a bag of human or animal feces, as well as some rude notes.
"It seemed that it was teenage boy behavior, but there's no way of knowing," Wallan said.
Earlier in the fall, somebody also pounded signs into Wallan's yard. Wallan said the signs had notes on the back with "unpleasant names."
In December, someone also put signs in Thomas' yard.
At last Monday's school board meeting, a teacher called out Wallan's son, Eric Wallan, a senior at South Medford High School, for his allegedly disrespectful Twitter posts toward teachers in the district. Thomas abruptly interrupted the teacher and asked that board members' children not be named. Thomas later apologized for his manner, but added he wasn't sorry for what he said.
"It's unacceptable to bring up the name of a school board member's kid," he said. "It's just not OK."
Eric Wallan tweeted later that evening, "After what happened tonight, I have 0 respect for most teachers in the district." But on Tuesday, he tweeted an apology, directed to parents and teachers, for his negative comments.
"He supports me and feels bad when people call me names," Kim Wallan said.
"He has been told, 'This is your family's fault' at school by kids and adults."
MEA President Cheryl Lashley said in an email she wasn't aware of Eric Wallan's Twitter activity until the board meeting and had "no comment on a teenager's day in the media spotlight." She did not answer questions about how students and teachers were responding to the negotiations and did not return phone calls seeking further comment.
At the end of fall quarter, Wallan spoke with South Medford Principal Kevin Campbell and Assistant Principal Donnie Frazier, who she said were understanding and even moved Eric to a different classroom where they thought there would be less tension.
Thomas, whose daughters attend North Medford High School, said the general atmosphere at school has been very supportive.
"I think the teachers at North have been very good to my kids, with only a few exceptions," he said. "I think they realize that it's not (the kids') fault."
Other schools also are making a point to keep the teacher sentiments from spilling into the classroom.
"Our people have been very professional and are not sharing information with the school, and that's pretty important, and I don't think that's happening everywhere," said McLoughlin Middle School Principal Linda White, who also is part of the district's bargaining team. "Everybody is taking the high road, and it's refreshing."
Wallan said that when she was elected to the school board in 2011, she was told the volunteer commitment would be about 20 hours a month. But lately she's spent at least 20 hours a week in negotiations and more time preparing for board meetings and study sessions. Although she said she was prepared for the long hours, she wasn't prepared for the emotional drain.
"I didn't run for the school board to make a lot of people hate me. I just really felt that I could contribute to my community and help to make good decisions."
Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4479 or by email at email@example.com. Follow her at twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.