Medford School District Is Requesting Mediation For Talks With Teachers' Union

The Medford School District says that after more than five months of negotiations with the Medford Education Association without substantial movement or agreement on key issues, they are requesting contract mediation. Mediation is a bargaining option provided by state law which allows either group to ask for assistance from an impartial third party in reconciling a labor dispute regarding employment relations. The District will submit its request to the Oregon Employee Relations Board, which will assign a contract mediator to work with the District and the Association. For public entities, mediation may only be requested after groups have spent at least 150 days negotiating on their own. At the beginning of Wednesday's bargaining session, School Board Chair Jeff Thomas made a passionate opening statement about the Board's concerns to resolve the contract. Noting that Board members had been listening and hearing the concerns of teachers about contract language and working conditions, Mr. Thomas proposed that the bargaining teams should push to make significant progress, without which it may be time to consider mediation. He also said the Board must do what is best for students, and that the Board had an obligation to meet the community's expectations in moving forward. Kim Wallen and Sally Killen represented the Board on the bargaining team. Board members Tricia Prendergast and Ron Anderson also attended the open session. The District proposed splitting into teams to address contract language. It also requested that the MEA discuss an agreement to temporarily resolve the scheduling issues for advisory periods (PAWs and the Tornado Block) at the high schools, which are impeded by the current contract language. Last year, the MEA and the District collaborated to flex time and allow the PAWS advisory periods at SMHS to continue, based on overwhelming teacher support. The District had attempted to address these concerns early in the bargaining process in April without success, and the MEA refused to renew the agreement to allow even temporarily for these advisory periods to continue while bargaining moved into the new school year. The Association presented its explanation of the finances supporting its August 6 offer, but neither group made a counter offer on the financial components. The District and Association spent collaborative time discussing contract language, with small inroads on a couple of issues, but the rate of progress without more substantial progress on significant issues indicated that mediation could be beneficial in reaching overall agreement on the contract. The District offered to continue to meet and work collaboratively on contract language and to exchange language proposals while in mediation, and asked the MEA to propose dates to do so. The District says it remains focused on its priorities of increasing graduation rate and student achievement, improving supports for teachers to allow for better focus and academic supports for students, creating financial stability and sustainability, and providing a fair contract for teachers that is reflective of the marketplace. They further add that they believe the use of a mediator will assist with the completion of negotiations and result in an agreement that meets these priorities in a more efficient manner.

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