The Medford School District is getting hit with an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaint from the Medford Education Association. The MEA said the complaint has been filed with the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) with evidence of the district's alleged unlawful behavior.
The MEA represents 599 teachers. They are currently in contract negotiations with the district. The group is accusing the Medford School District of breaking the law because the district signed an agreement saying they would add-back cut school days or restore concessions made by teachers to save the district money, once there was additional funding from the state. So far, the MEA says that hasn't happened.
It's the newest development in the contract negotiation battle that's dragging on, as frustration builds among teachers.
It was standing room only as Medford teachers and community members packed into Monday night's heated school board meeting as accusations flew.
"Our teachers are the lowest paid in the valley, you should be embarrassed," said Dennis Murphy during the public comment portion of Monday night's school board meeting. He's the Athletic Director at South Medford High School.
According to the Oregon Education Association, Medford teachers are the lowest paid among metropolitan school districts in the valley. OEA's numbers indicate Rogue River teachers get paid the least, followed by Prospect, Butte Falls, then the Medford School District. Other metropolitan school districts such as Ashland, Central Point, Phoenix-Talent and Eagle Point all pay more than the Medford School District, confirmed officials at the OEA.
"The bar continues to be raised but we are given less and less to do the job," said Kelly Larson, a 2nd Grade teacher at Griffin Creek Elementary.
Many Medford teachers are furious over contract negotiations that have now spanned more than seven months. The district made an offer a month ago with the help of a mediator, but many teachers aren't accepting it.
"You're proposing to cut our pay, remove the language that protects our 40-hour work week, which we clearly exceed," said Tracy Patterson, a North Medford High School teacher.
In addition, some teachers say the six-percent raise in the proposed contract isn't really a raise since they'd have to pay six-percent more into their pensions.
"There is obviously money in the district as administrators gave themselves a nice raise last year while we were still having to cut days," said another teacher who got up to speak at the school board meeting.
"Administrators got a 4.5% raise but they also accepted the 6% employee contribution and the changes to the early retirement program and the insurance changes," said Dr. Phil Long, the Medford School District Superintendent.
Dr. Long said in the end, he anticipates no one will get everything they want.
"There aren't enough resources to do that and we have to think about sustainability," he said.
However, if an agreement isn't reached soon, it's possible a strike could happen. It's not far from many teachers' minds.
"We all watched in horror at the unfolding of Eagle Point's bargaining process two years ago. It didn't end well. 549C looks no different," said Larson.
Teachers in Eagle Point were on strike for just over a week and almost a year and a half later, a number of teachers have left the district and there continues to be tension between some teachers and administrators.
According to officials at the Oregon Education Association, a strike appears to be a ways off at this point. They say the first step would be one of the sides declaring an impasse. Once that's done, they would have seven days to put together final offers which they would send to the Employment Relations Board (ERB). After that, there would be a 30-day cool-off period before a strike could begin to take place. Right now, neither side has declared an impasse.
The third contract mediation meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 30th.