Issues still unresolved in teacher contract negotiations

, Posted: Fri, January 24 2014 at 5:42 PM, Updated: Sun, January 26 2014 at 1:56 AM

Medford, Ore. -- There are more questions than answers for thousands of families in the Medford School District after teachers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike on Thursday night.

"[It] of course doesn't mean they're on strike, but it means the association now has the authority to go to strike when they choose," said Medford Schools Superintendent Dr. Phil Long.

District and teachers meet for half-hour

Both sides came together at 10 o'clock Friday morning, however the meeting ended about 35-minutes after it started.

Long said it's because both teams agreed to take a breather due to the long and emotionally draining week. However, officials with the Medford Education Association said the two groups had different expectations.

The teachers association said they walked away from the bargaining table disappointed.

"The Medford Education Association team arrived prepared to negotiate on all the remaining issues. The team realized quickly that the Medford School District did not have the same intentions."

Strong emotions have stemmed from almost a year of heated contract negotiations and from Thursday night's pivotal teachers vote.

"The teachers have overwhelmingly voted to support a strike," said Medford Education Association President, Cheryl Lashley at the strike vote meeting held Thursday night.

Teachers want to negotiate on all issues, including money

The district said financially, they've put all they can on the table

"If they would prefer more on salary and less on benefits, we'll certainly look at that but the reality is, it is a finite resource. There is only so much money," said Jeff Thomas, Chair of the Medford School Board.

Lashley said the association cannot continue to meet if the district will not invest more money in teachers.

"We have the voices of 600 teachers behind us saying that it's time," she said in a statement.

Breaking the contract down financially

The district wants teachers to sign a three-year contract.

"For our average teacher with 13 years of experience the total investment we're making in that teacher this year is just over $101,000 when you include salary and benefits," said Long.

"That will increase to about $105,000 if we have a 3rd year on the contract," he continued.

According to Long, the third contract year would be a new biennium with potential for more funding.

Broken down, Long said every teacher gets at least 1.9% increase on their 190-day contract and for about half of teachers they get an addition 3.4% because of their experience.

As for benefits Long said the district is offering a good package.

"Essentially for a teacher with a full family benefit, they would pay $77 a month. They would have a $500 deductible, $1500 total for their family," he said.

Sticking points remain

While tentative agreements were reached on 13 of 19 contract articles, big sticking points remain on working conditions, wording and pensions.

Long said, another large disagreement centers on the association wanting to involve the Southern Oregon Bargaining Council in negotiations. According Long, the district is against the move because they would rather negotiate directly with their employees.

What's next?

It's expected the two sides will meet again next week to try and avoid a strike. The teachers association said they'll meet with the district as soon as the they're willing to talk about all contract issues, including increasing the financial offer.

That's something the district has repeatedly said they cannot do without jeopardizing services for students.

Phil Long said in his 30 years of working in Medford, there has never been a contract negotiation that has come this close to a strike.

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