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Progress seen in teacher contract talks

Progress was made during a marathon bargaining session Wednesday between the Medford School District and its striking teachers' union, representatives of both parties said.

The sides, which were set to resume negotiations at 9 a.m. today, exchanged proposals as members met face-to-face briefly in another round of state-mediated talks.

No contract agreement was reached Wednesday, however, in talks that began at 8:45 a.m. and ended for the night just before 10 p.m.

The parties broke with a district proposal on the table for the Medford Education Association to consider, said a source close to the negotiations, who added that there were "signs of progress."

"The (MEA) team is working on a counterproposal. They will meet again in the morning to present it," said Rebecca Konefal, a consultant from the Oregon Education Association and spokeswoman for the teachers union.

"The fact that negotiations are continuing means there is progress," she said.

"Both parties have shown a desire for some movement," Superintendent Phil Long said during a 5 p.m. interview on Wednesday.

By then, three contract proposals had been put on the table — two from the district and one from the Medford Education Association, Long said.

Bargaining began around 8:45 a.m. at the Inn at the Commons in Medford.

"We learned today from the Legislature that property tax revenues are anticipated to be up statewide — $98 million," said Long, who would not grant an interview after negotiations concluded.

State Rep. Peter Buckley and state Sen. Alan Bates contacted Long Wednesday morning, saying this will mean an increase for the district as well.

The Oregon Legislative Revenue Office predicted the revenue growth could mean an increase of $1.1 million to $1.3 million for the Medford district, Long said.

With that in mind, the district's bargaining team added a 1 percent stipend for teachers, in the second year of the contract, in its Wednesday afternoon proposal, Long said.

"The reason I call it a stipend is that it is a one-time compensation benefit and does not build in the following years," he said.

After calculating out the Public Employees Retirement System contributions and the longer work year, the compensation piece of the district's afternoon proposal included a 1.9 percent raise the first year, 1 percent raise and a 1 percent stipend in the second year and 3 percent raise in the third year.

"We are curious to see what response we get from that," Long said around 5 p.m., Wednesday.

The proposal also included some adjustment to the working conditions piece, including additional special education support staff and a stipend for kindergarten through sixth-grade teachers with combination classes.

Early Wednesday afternoon, the MEA agreed to have two of its members meet face-to-face with two members of the district bargaining team and two state mediators. The meeting lasted less than an hour but was "productive," Long said.

"It's the first time we've had face-to-face since before the strike vote," he said.

MEA President Cheryl Lashley said in a prepared statement Wednesday evening, "We (teachers) stood in the pouring rain and watched the madness continue at our schools. Even though it remains excruciatingly slow, we are hopeful. Both sides have shown attempts to move closer to settlement. Our students need us back in our classrooms."

Lashley said she had not attended Wednesday's bargaining session. A member of the MEA bargaining team said she would not discuss the union's forthcoming counterproposal until it had been presented to the district.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or by email at tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.