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MEA, district begin contract negotiations

It’s been two years since the 11-day strike that sidelined 500 Medford teachers, and it’s time for a new contract.

The Medford School District and Medford Education Association exchanged their first contract proposals in a public meeting Wednesday. The current three-year contract expires June 30.

“I thought we had a really productive meeting,” said Medford School Board Chairman Jeff Thomas, who, along with board members Larry Nicholson and Michael Campbell, is on the district’s bargaining team. “It wasn’t the first time we met, but it was the first time we exchanged proposals.”

The district’s initial offer is for a three-year contract and includes a 3 percent cost of living adjustment with 2 percent provided in the first year of the contract and 1 percent in the second for a total cost to the district of $1.6 million.

The proposal also includes a 3.4 percent step increase for each year of the contract. Step increases are experience-based pay increases available to teachers for the first 14 years of their employment, district spokeswoman Natalie Hurd said.

Next year, 62 percent of Medford teachers are eligible for step increases, said Chief Operations Officer Brad Earl. Over the life of the contract proposal, step increases will cost the district $2.5 million.

The proposal also includes increases in medical contributions by the district and staff.

Medical expenses, which are projected to increase by $1 million each year, are one of the factors prohibiting the district from increasing the COLA, Earl said.

In its initial offer, the MEA requested a one-year contract with a 3.8 percent COLA and a step increase of 3.4 percent.

There were also many language changes proposed in both offers.

"We do have some compensation changes that allow the members to keep up with the cost of living, and we've got some fairly basic changes, just some housekeeping things, fixing language, making things a little more clear," said MEA President Dan Jones, a fifth-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary.

Prior to meeting to exchange proposals, both bargaining units met for "interest sharing meetings" to get a better idea of where the other was at, Jones said.

"I'm happy to say that both teams have worked really well together in this process," he said, adding that his team is optimistic that there will be a positive outcome for the involved parties.

“The MEA and district are putting kids first and are committed to maintaining high quality staff and providing competitive pay and benefits, and I think both proposals reflected that,” Thomas said. “Now the process turns to understanding each others' needs and working collaboratively to come up with an agreement that reflects those needs.”

The next meeting is scheduled for 4:45 p.m. May 4 at MEA office, 2495 S. Pacific Highway, Medford. As of right now, the negotiations are open to the public.

“It’s the board’s hope that the negotiations can be streamed live from (the district’s) website so the community and, more importantly, the teachers are able to view the process without having to disrupt their lives to attend the meeting,” said Thomas.

However, according to a letter from the board, this topic is still being discussed.

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