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Strike would cut class days in half, cancel after-school activities

If Medford teachers strike as their union has threatened on Feb. 6, schools would be combined, classes reduced to half days and all sports and after-school activities would be canceled and games forfeited, Superintendent Phil Long announced Wednesday afternoon.

After meeting with the Medford School Board for an executive session Wednesday, Long outlined how the district would continue to provide educational services to its 12,000 students in the event that teachers walk.

"We are trying to reorganize our district to ensure kids are safe while recognizing that our primary teaching staff will not be available," Long said.

If the teachers strike, schools will be closed Thursday and Friday, Feb. 6-7, and Monday, Feb. 10, to give district administration time to organize classrooms and substitute teachers time to prepare lessons. Classes would resume Tuesday, Feb. 11.

Schools would be combined, with one school holding classes in the morning and a second school in the afternoon at the same site. Students would attend classes for four hours — two-thirds of a normal school day, Long said.

All after-school programs and sports would be canceled, and all games sanctioned by the Oregon School Activities Association forfeited.

"It's an unfortunate consequence of the strike," Long said.

Of the Medford Education Association's 600 members, about 520 are classroom teachers who potentially could join the strike. The rest are licensed support staff.

The district posted an advertisement for K-12 Oregon licensed teachers on its website Tuesday and also is advertising for substitute teachers in newspapers from Northern California to Portland.

Substitute teachers would be paid $171 per five-hour shift, and many of them likely would work two shifts per day for a total of $342. The district also would pay room and board and travel expenses for teachers hired outside the district.

Security would also have to be hired during the strike, Long said. He did not have an estimate of how much the strike would cost the district per day, but said that the money would come out of reserves and funds the district would otherwise be paying teachers.

All substitute teachers would be required to pass a background check and drug test, he said.

"We will follow Oregon law on what must be done before teachers can serve in the classroom," Long said.

Bus and food services are contracted and should continue as usual, he said. The district is hiring security to monitor the schools and to ensure classes proceed without disturbances.

"Although we can't control what happens outside the campus, we can ensure that what happens within the campus is calm, thoughtful and focused on children and learning," Long said.

Union President Cheryl Lashley described teachers as "good, kind, gentle people" and said none of them has any hostile intentions nor would they ever participate in an activity that could harm students.

"Those kids mean everything to us," she said.

Teachers who plan to strike starting Feb. 6 will be required to turn in their keys and remove all personal property, in effect resigning their positions for the length of the strike, Long said.

"Our practice is, when an employee quits, we continue insurance till the end of the month, and then it's terminated," he said.

Teachers who choose to stay and continue to work will be paid at their normal rate. All other teachers will be deducted half of a percent of their annual salary for each day they are on strike.

"We are not being paid by the district for those days and that is the level of commitment our folks have to our profession and the students we teach," Lashley said.

The union will pay teachers on strike $100 to $120 per day, an Oregon Education Association official said.

Lashley said she hopes that all teachers will stand together but is assuming that there will be some union members who choose not to strike.

"The decision to strike was not taken lightly by individuals or the association, and I imagine that the decision not to strike is just as difficult," she said.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4479 or by email at tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.