School, union officials agree on tentative deal

MEDFORD — The Medford School District and teachers union reached a tentative agreement Friday on a three-year contract after 10 months of bargaining, school officials said.

Negotiations hit a snag last year largely over salary increases and health-insurance benefits. Teachers have been working without a contract for close to nine months.

Medford Education Association spokeswoman Cheryl Lashley declined to give details on the settlement until union members have been notified that a deal has been reached.

It now is up to the district's 638 teachers and support staff to accept the agreement. A district-wide e-mail announcing the agreement was sent to union members' school accounts, Lashley said.

"We did come to an agreement on early retirement, salaries and insurance," Lashley said. "There is still a lot of language things that are not money-related to deal with."

The economic downturn plaguing the nation and the massive state budget shortfall lent urgency to Friday's two-hour negotiation, Lashley said.

"We knew the economy was against us at this point," Lashley said. "Our team feels we got the best deal we could get in these economic times."

Medford schools Superintendant Phil Long did not return phone calls Saturday seeking comment.

Union and district officials met throughout last week to ensure a deal was reached before the weekend.

The union's last proposal included a retroactive, 4 percent pay raise for 2008-09 and a 2.5 percent increase for the two subsequent years of a three-year contract.

District officials said they can afford to give the teachers a smaller retroactive raise for 2008-09 of 2.5 percent. But officials want to hold off on determining salaries for the next two years until the state Legislature determines education funding for the 2009-11 biennium because of the economic instability around the state.

The district has offered to pay 100 percent of the health-insurance cost for every full-time teacher, but only 90 percent of the insurance cost for spouses and children. They also have proposed phasing out the teachers' early-retirement-incentive program by 2018.

Lashley thinks the agreement could be welcomed with a "huge" sense of relief from union members, who are ready to chart the course for the next three years.

"Neither side got exactly what they wanted," she said. "But that's the fine art of negotiation. You give and take until you come to a place everyone can agree on."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail

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