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Medford district, teachers differ on pay, length of contract

The first round of negotiations for a new contract between the Medford School District and its teachers' union differed in pay increases and length of contract.

The district’s initial offer is for a three-year contract and includes a 1 percent cost-of-living increase in each year. The Medford Education Association wants a two-year contract with a 3.5 percent cost-of-living increase in each year.

The offers were made during a six-hour public meeting Wednesday during which representatives of both sides said they considered many of the proposed changes to be “conversation starters.” The current, one-year contract expires June 30.

The district's proposal gives the district final say on personal leave requests, provides pay — in lieu of comp time — for teachers who cover another teacher’s class or lose scheduled prep time, and simplifies language around leaves of absence.

The district also said it would continue covering 90 percent of the employee’s monthly insurance premium in 2017-18 and make a one-time contribution of $1,600 in the first year and $500 in subsequent years into the Health Savings Account of employees on the high deductible plan.

In 2018-19, the district plans to cap medical contributions, following other districts around the state, said district spokeswoman Natalie Hurd.

“We have one of the richest medical plans in the state, but due to increased costs and the volatility of being self-insured, an expenses cap would allow a more predictable budgeting scenario for the district,” Hurd said.

Board member Jeff Thomas, also a member of the district’s bargaining team, said health insurance costs are rising, so it will be up to both teams to devise a solution to “mitigate those expenses without going backward on some of our initiatives.”

“We don’t want to have to give up on class sizes, Pathways, music and physical education, and all those things cost money, so we have to work collaboratively to make sure that we aren’t going to have to cut programs we know are successful for kids,” he said.

Compensation continues to be a concern for teachers, said MEA President Dan Jones. "We believe that our members who are working hard and getting results shouldn’t go backward,” he said.

The union also asked that the district pay 93 percent of each employee’s monthly premium and put $1,500 each year into the HSA of employees with the high deductible plan.

The teachers’ proposal also includes a new section on student discipline, increases the number of in-service days, sets class loads for elementary music and physical education teachers, reduces the student contact loads for counselors, increases the reimbursement amount for teachers wishing to cash in their personal days and allows site councils at each building to determine the schedule for parent-teacher conferences.

“I don’t think it’s the district's intent to make this job hard, so we are looking for ways for the district to provide relief in some of these areas,” Jones said.

Thomas said Thursday he felt the first meeting was positive and that many of the changes proposed by the union were fair.

“It’s a starting point for a discussion,” he said. “It’s important to the board that teachers have working conditions in the classroom that will allow them to be successful.”

The district and MEA bargaining teams will meet April 11 for more conversation and clarification and then again April 13 to begin building the contract, Thomas said.

“I don’t think this will be as hard as we previously thought, because we’re not surprised by what they brought because we had some interest-sharing meetings,” Jones said.

The district also began negotiations Thursday with its classified employee union, the Oregon School Employee Association.

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