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Medford Teachers Unhappy with Implemented Contract

, Written by Christine Pitawanich, Posted: Fri, December 13 2013 at 6:03 PM, Updated: Thu, December 19 2013 at 10:10 AM

Teachers say they knew it was coming, but they're now faced with a tough decision accept the contract the Medford School Board implemented on Friday or make moves toward a strike.

From the very start of the meeting, people were unhappy. First it was about the meeting time at 11:30 Friday morning, when it's difficult for teachers to get away from their classrooms. 

However, the anger didn't stop there.

School Board Makes Game-Changing Decision

Teacher Lisa North was one of the few teachers who were able to make it to the meeting. She isn't the only one who's frustrated with contract negotiations.

"It feels like a slap in the face to our profession," said North.

"It feels like we are not valued for the work we do."

She and others attended a Medford School Board meeting on Friday morning where a pivotal decision was made about teacher contracts.

The board voted to implement their latest contract offer. Medford Education Association officials say it essentially forces teachers to accept the district's conditions.

"It's not a surprise, we knew it was coming," said Cheryl Lashley, MEA President and 3rd grade teacher at Howard Elementary.

Board members said they knew the consequences of making the decision to impose the contract, but there weren't any other options.

"We knew the consequences and the dangers and the relationship issues that such a decision would impose but we had no choice," said Ron Andersen, Vice Chair of the Medford School Board.

Under Oregon law if the negotiating process exceeds a certain period of time, the school board can implement the contract.

The implemented contract is expected to actually go into effect on December 19th, the end of the 30-day cooling-off period that resulted from the Medford School District calling an impasse.

The Best and Final Offer

According to board members this is their final and best offer in order to keep a healthy budget.

"We have all the money we can put on the table. If they want to talk about shifting it around that's fine, but we have done all we can do," said Anderson.

"Financially we're done," said board member Larry Nicholson.

The contract increases class time for elementary up to high school, includes a 12-percent pay increase with cost of living raises over the next three years.

"It also continues the 3-4% experience step. This contract caps insurance at $12,600 a year. It also shifts employees 6% PERS costs back to teachers. 10% of the living increase is the first year. The district will continue to pay 19% of PERS that the employer is responsible for," said Nicholson as he clarified the terms of the contract.

Controversy Surrounding "Raise" Wording

Board members said every teacher would be getting a raise, some of them substantially.

However, teachers contend, they're not really getting a raise.

"When you take the 6% PERS out and you add days to to the contract but don't compensate for them, when you put on an insurance cap that will be less than what's being paid right now, that's all money that comes straight out of that 12% raise," said North.

Not Just About the Money

North said it's not just about the money. It's also about revising the wording in the contract when it comes to things like teacher prep time.

"Those language pieces are what will affect students. If you take away prep time, we cannot provide a quality lesson. If you add more students, take away the cap of how many students a teacher teaches or how many periods they teach a day that spreads teachers more thin," North said.

According to North, other language in the contract would allow the district to fire teachers without a reason.

"If you take away just cause clause where teachers can be fired at will without a reason, without having a justification, those kind of things are what drive morale to the bottom of the barrel and those are the pieces that the district won't address and that's what's most disappointing to me," she continued.

"Those language things will absolutely change the way that instruction happens and that's what affects kids. That's what we will stand on and say no to," said North.

Saying "No" to the District's Offer

"We are not accepting their financial package," Lashley said.

That refusal to accept the district's financial package could lead to a strike.

When asked how likely a strike would be, Lashley said she didn't  think teachers would stand for the contract as it is.

What Comes Next

The MEA has to decide whether or not they ratify or accept the district's contract. However, at this point, it doesn't look like that will happen any time soon. Some teachers are still holding out hope that the bargaining process will remain fair.

"I'd like to think that that continues but it's the trust piece that's gone," said North.

Meanwhile, board members say they're hopeful the MEA will ratify the contract and negotiations will come to an end peacefully.

"We're hopeful that we will be contacted byt he MEA negotiating team to continue to sit down and discuss the contract. We can continue to polish some of the areas," said Andersen.

As for a potential strike, North said nobody wants a strike. However it is expected to be put to vote sometime after the first of the year.

The MEA said they hope the Board will return to the bargaining table to negotiate more.

Teachers Also Given Retroactive Pay

The implementation of the contract also meant that teachers would be given compensation for the work they've done since the start of the year.

It's the result of  another decision made at Friday's school board meeting.

Board members voted unanimously to give teachers retroactive pay from the start of the school year until now.            

It reflects the pay increases in the new contract implemented Friday morning.

It's expected checks will be sent out to teachers by December 20th.

For More Information:

Side-by-side comparison of current final offers put out by both parties: http://www.medford.k12.or.us/files/Side-by-side_Comparison_Final_Offers_12-%2013-13.pdf

Breakdown of salary and total compensation increases under the new salary schedule: http://www.medford.k12.or.us/SIB/files/549C%20Avg%20Cost%20of%20a%20Teaching%20Position-Final%20Offer%2011-19-13.pdf

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About the Author

Christine Pitawanich

Christine Pitawanich was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, she received a master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in New York.

Christine also has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of Washington.

Before joining the NBC5 News team, she had the opportunity to file reports from Washington D.C. for WFFT FOX Ft. Wayne News in Indiana. Christine has also interned at KOMO-TV in Seattle.

Christine loves to ski, try new food and have fun in the outdoors.

Catch Christine anchoring weekdays on NBC 5 News at 5pm.

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