MEDFORD, Ore. – Medford teachers and students are back in school for the first normal day of classes since teachers went on strike almost three weeks ago.
“The biggest feeling is just, it’s over and now we can get back to work,” said instructional coach and MEA representative Lisa North.
That sigh of relief should last the next three years thanks to a tentative agreement struck last Thursday night. The final days of bargaining were an emotional rollercoaster ride for both sides as disagreements over a third year continued to get in the way.
Instead of shortening the contract, the school board agreed to rely on future funding projected by the state, but not yet in the bank.
“We are counting on getting more revenue,” said school board negotiating team member Kim Wallan. “But we wanted that third year because with our superintendent leaving at the end of the year, we need that stability.”
Since the last proposal, cost of living adjustments went up in years two and three. The district also agreed to share health insurance costs, a sticking point for teachers.
And the MEA held on to uninterrupted prep time they say makes a big difference in class.
“The teachers will use that time to plan, to grade, to call parents, to collaborate, all of those pieces that are essential to providing quality lessons,” said North.
Meanwhile the district will gradually move early retirement from an eight year extension in health benefits to a direct stipend, something they say will allow them to stabilize funding.
“That was an enormous shift in philosophy, in culture, and that’s where we really got what we needed,” said Wallan.
Now, the contract heads to a ratification vote. Meanwhile teachers say normal classrooms never felt so sweet.
“Those students this morning just picked right up where they left off and jumped right back into work with their teachers almost like they didn’t miss a beat,” said North.
The MEA is planning to hold their ratification vote later this week in a secret ballot. The school board says they have to hold their vote afterwards, but will schedule it for as soon as possible once the m-e-a vote has been done.