Lawmakers warn school contract sides against 'game of chicken'

Jackson County legislators have sent out a plea to the Medford School District and the teachers union to head back to the bargaining table today and avoid a strike Feb. 6.

"We are absolutely united in the belief that if you want to get to an agreement, you can get to an agreement," said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland. "A game of chicken is not what we want to hear. We want a resolution that benefits both sides."

Buckley, Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, and Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, prepared a letter Thursday requesting the Medford Education Association and the Medford School District get back to the bargaining table Friday rather than wait until Feb. 5, a day before the strike date.

Bargaining teams from the district and union met separately with two state mediators Tuesday for about nine hours but did not settle any of the lingering issues, including compensation, working conditions, early retirement benefits and health insurance premiums. Both sides have discussed meeting Saturday, but the date hadn't been approved by the chief mediator.

With contract negotiations at a standstill, the teachers union on Monday notified the district that it intends to strike Feb. 6, unless an agreement can be reached before then.

The letter from the legislators notes that Bates previously served on a school board and that Esquivel and Buckley have been participants in contract negotiations.

The legislators did not single out one side or the other for blame, noting that there are conflicting goals that deserve attention.

Buckley said the legislators worked diligently to increase K-12 funding but realize school districts and teachers have made sacrifices over the past several years because of dwindling state finances.

"In times of crisis, everyone felt the sense of urgency to pull together," he said. "Now that we've made the reinvestment in education, it's harder to make compromises because everyone felt they compromised for years."

Esquivel said a strike can be avoided if both sides are willing to negotiate and deal with each other in a business-like fashion.Corrected

"I do hope they can resolve this issue, and on Monday start out as a normal day of school," he said. "Otherwise, everybody's going to be a loser on this — the kids, the teachers, the parents and the community as a whole."

Bates said there has to be a way to avoid a strike, which will require compromise.

"Both sides have to swallow some," he said.

In their letter, the legislators said the 2013-15 budget was designed to turn around a disinvestment in education caused by the recession and to begin to build again.

The goal of the K-12 budget, they said, is to add back teachers, add back days and add back programs — but also to give respect and fair compensation to the teachers who have sacrificed over the past several years.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or Follow him at

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