Measuring the strike's final score

Saturday morning's Mail Tribune carried a large, bold headline across the top of Page 1A, above the story on the end of the Medford teachers' strike:


If you look through the accompanying story, there is no verbatim, "We have a deal," quote from one of the negotiators. Yet no one questions the sentiment of the headline, for this was a news story in which we — teachers, administrators, school board members, students, parents, media, local businesses, taxpayers — were all involved.

When the deal was struck 16 long days after the teachers walked, there was no scoreboard to tell the community who won. There couldn't be, for "we" all have different ways of measuring the score.

Perhaps it's telling that no one claimed an outright victory, and members of both negotiating teams conceded there were pluses and minuses for their sides. Our reading of the summaries released so far suggests a split decision, with the teachers holding off some of the more penurious proposals, but giving ground nevertheless in several areas:

Contract duration: Three years, a win for the district, which desperately wanted to avoid a quick return to the bargaining table.

Contract days: 190 days, with up to 177 classroom days. While that's an increase, sadly it's two school days less than proposed by the district, although there is an option to add two days in the third year, if funds exist to increase teacher pay by an equivalent amount.

Salaries: In the end, teachers were awarded what amounts to about 7.6 percent raises for the three years of the contract. That's hardly a windfall, especially considering that teachers have not had a cost-of-living raise since 2008.

PERS: In a last-day reversal, the district agreed to continue (after this year) paying the 6 percent employee contribution into the Public Employee Retirement System. The pension payment was contingent on a matching 6 percent increase in pay to the teachers. Dropping that tradeoff doesn't affect the teachers' pension benefit, but reduces costs for the district, for whom the PERS expense is directly related to the amount of salary paid to its employees. This was a painless way to free up more money to resolve other negotiating issues.

Early retirement: In many ways, a district proposal to end an early retirement benefit was the hottest of hot buttons in the contract standoff. The benefit essentially allowed a teacher to retire at 58 (now 57) but remain on the district's insurance policy. The negotiated deal allows eligible teachers to keep the benefit if they retire this year or next; after that, they would get $2,000 per year of service up to June 30 of this year, with a maximum payment of $56,000.

That may sound like a win for the teachers, but it will also save the district tens of millions of dollars over the next three decades by putting a cap on its obligation and reducing the payouts to teachers with shorter tenures.

Of course, it also benefits teachers, with a significant number still able to retire early and keep the benefit and others eligible for a handsome payout if they retire early in later years. It's not a deal you're likely to find anywhere in the private sector and in very few places on the public side.

Health insurance: Who won here? Well, the district was able to essentially double the teachers' portion of the premium cost over three years. Then again, that means it's doubled from 5 percent to 10 percent, which is a fraction of what most workers in the private sector are faced with.

Prep time: Teachers won this battle by getting the district to back off its proposal to make prep time more flexible. Teachers say they often don't have time to go to the bathroom, so the idea of giving the district more flexibility in controlling their "spare" time was a non-starter for them from the beginning.

Final tally: In the end, many of the final positions ended up closer to the teachers' starting point than the district's. But even in several of those, the teachers wound up with less of a benefit than they had previously.

So call it a draw. Considering the acrimony and distrust that built up and still exists in the community over the drawn-out negotiations and two-plus weeks of the strike, it's fair to say there were no winners.

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