Medford School District opts for mediation in contract talks

Many Medford teachers returned to their classrooms Thursday to prepare for the new school year without knowing their future since the teachers union and the school district have yet to come closer to a contract agreement.

Wednesday's collective bargaining session, the 11th in five months, ended at 9:30 p.m. with the Medford School District declaring that mediation will be needed to resolve the double-digit gap in raises that the district is offering and teachers are requesting.

Teachers have to decide how they will handle the disparity in agreements.

A few mentioned that they may vote on striking in the months to come.

A statement released by the district Thursday said negotiations with the Medford Education Association have not resulted in substantial movement or agreement on key issues and the district has requested contract mediation.

Union representatives countered that the district keeps changing the process and is resorting to "game playing" rather than working to resolve differences in wages, benefits, contract days and schedules.

A written statement released by union representatives said: "Every time we settle into a process and progress begins on resolution, the district wants to spend time developing a new process and then lamenting the lack of speed to getting to resolution."

Mediation is a bargaining option provided by state law that allows either group to ask for assistance from an impartial third party in reconciling a labor dispute regarding employment relations. It can be requested only after the groups have spent at least 150 days negotiating on their own.

The district will submit its request to the Oregon Employment Relations Board, which will assign a contract mediator to work with the two parties.

One teacher who asked not to be named said there are only a few qualified mediators in the state and waiting for them to become available may take months.

According to the Employee Relations Board, an appointed mediator will meet with both parties, typically once or twice over 15 days.

If there is no settlement, mediation can continue or one side can declare an impasse, in which case both parties have to submit their final offers and cost summaries to the mediator followed by a 30-day cooling off period.

Teachers could then go on strike after giving 10 days' notice.

Mediation continues during the cooling-off period and throughout a strike, said Janet Gillman, a conciliator with the Employment Relations Board.

At the beginning of Wednesday's bargaining session, School Board Chairman Jeff Thomas said board members have been listening and hearing the concerns of teachers about contract language and working conditions.

He then proposed that the sides split into teams to discuss solutions.

This surprised the union, according to the written statement, and delayed new proposals.

"Whereas his request was not without some merit, it would have been a more efficient use of time to present the idea at a pre-meeting between the chairs of the two parties," according to the union statement.

The teacher who asked not to be identified said she felt her team made progress by the end of the session and she was surprised when the district requested mediation.

Wage increases are a large part of the dispute.

According to a worksheet prepared by the district, a newly hired teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience would start the 2013-14 school year at $34,183, a 3.2 percent increase over the current annual base salary.

The union is asking for $35,554, a 7.4 percent increase that includes $1,727 more for cost-of-living expenses.

Both sides are offering for more to compensate for an increase in days of instruction and preparation, with the district offering a new hire $1,068 and the union asking for less, $712.

The second year of the contract, the district will increase the contract by 4.4 percent while MEA is asking for 8.6 percent.

The district says it is offering a three-year contract that includes step increases in pay along with an additional 1 percent cost-of-living increase.

For a teacher with 20 years of experience, a master's degree and 75 hours of continued education, the district wants to start the new school year by paying $66,230, a 6 percent increase over the current base salary, while the union is asking for $72,822, a 16.5 percent increase.

The union's proposed increase includes a $7,282 bump for teachers with 17 or more years of service and a cost-of-living increase.

The second year of the contract, the district would increase the veteran teacher's contract by 1 percent while the union is asking for 5 percent, according to the worksheet.

In the 2011-13 contract, Medford teachers had 182 contract days that included 170 days of instruction. The base salary for teachers with a bachelor's degree was $33,115 to $40,472, with seven step increments of $1,126 to 1,331.

That is less than teachers with similar degrees and experience earn at Central Point ($34,123 to $41,703), Eagle Point ($34,448 to $42,100), Grants Pass ($38,149 to $51,543) or Ashland ($36,543 to $55,383), according to the Oregon School Board Association's 2012-2013 Salary Survey Book.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

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