Medford, Oregon doesn't make a lot of national news. It's a rare (and usually not happy) story that comes from the largest community in Southern Oregon into national awareness. Our little labor action made that leap yesterday, as the AP pickup from one of our local TV stations made it to the Washington Post. The angle that is catching national attention is that while we are the 8th largest district in modestly sized state, Portland is 10 days away from walking, as well. They are the single largest block of students and teachers in the state.
It's not a good scene. Tomorrow, after three days of closure to prepare for reopening with replacement workers, Medford students will be expected back in the classroom. Schools have consolidated into combined campuses (my site, North Medford High School will have half days in the morning, Hedrick Middle School will use our campus each afternoon). With this consolidation, the district is hoping to cover nearly 600 striking teachers with more like 225 subs, plus administrators teaching, plus a handful of line-crossers from the regular staff. As of yesterday's training session 112 people got off the sub busses.
As this looms, the District isn't at the negotiation table again until Wednesday. The School Board has canceled 4 of the past 5 scheduled meetings to avoid public interaction. For how we got here? Follow my below the Civil Disobedience Squiggly!
A timeline of the Medford situation side by side with the Portland situation was laid out earlier this month by Oregon Strike Insider (seriously worthwhile blog for those interested). The Association has a site: www.iteachmedford.org
The MEA communications team (yes, I am on it) put together a flyer this week to put in the hands of interested parents and community members. Part of that was this (now with new bolding for emphasis (mine)):
Teachers had two choices. A. Accept the lousy District implemented offer. Or B. Strike.So NOW we have busses of replacements coming to the individual school sites this morning (orientation and training). The Superintendent was on TV last night saying "We have all the substitutes we need to run all of our classes." But a copy of the class schedule for one of the local elementary schools shows a k-6 schedule covered by 8 subs. Including a 4/5 split level group, that is one teacher per grade in a school that usually has 22 certified personnel. My site is usually staffed with nearly 80 and has a schedule in place that is supposed to work with 30. For now, the front page of NMHS has a schedule that includes 4 40 minute classes. Building Administrators (thanklessly stuck in the middle, along with the classified staff) worked a 14 hour day on Sunday building schedules and assigning students to 'classes' -- the saving grace for the plan may be that the students at the high school level will likely stay home, as well.
Medford teachers chose B. Why? Because each day they have to look into the faces of students and know that they did all they could to ensure them a quality education.
What were the footsteps that took us out of our classrooms and onto the city sidewalks? It all began around the table last March in Interest Based Bargaining. The process worked for 72 days with agreement on nearly every issue…until the District realized that they had money to offer Medford teachers a fair settlement. They called a caucus and when they came back to the table, they announced they were going to traditional bargaining.
Then came the initial proposal. On July 2nd, the District passed a gutted contract proposal across the table. They hit 118 different parts of a highly functioning agreement. (Hey folks remember the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”) The contract wasn’t broken…until the District’s proposal broke it. We went from collaborative negotiations to contentious in one day.
Next came the end of the 150 day timeline. Right on cue, the District called for mediation. (Perfectly following the state minimum timelines). The District met the minimum requirement for mediation and then filed for impasse. As soon as the cooling off period ended, the District declared war by implementing a final offer. While the District has the right to take these steps, none are conducive to building trust and good relations with staff or fostering quality working conditions.
Regardless of the frustration with the District’s behavior, the MEA tried several last ditch efforts to settle the contract. One of these was a one year settlement offer intended to keep schools open while negotiations continued.
The District rejected the one year settlement offer so quickly that the MEA team knew the Board’s sole intention was to force a strike. Additionally in a District letter mailed to classified staff on February 4th before negotiations resumed, the District stated the teachers would be striking on Thursday. Stating something as a given before the teams even sat down at the mediation table says it all. The District had already decided it wanted and would force a strike, unless MEA capitulated to the District’s every demand.
It’s now up to our community to bring a settlement. We need parents and concerned community members to contact the Board and tell them to MOVE NEGOTIATIONS FORWARD. Quit wasting taxpayer money, stop eroding the quality of our schools, and settle a fair contract.
The district search for Subs led them to Eugene and Portland. The snow storm in northern Oregon brought about the following email offering airfare, rather than milage reimbursement:
We know that weather has become inclement in your area and it may be unsafe for you to travel to our district. For that reason, we are offering a $350 stipend, in lieu of the mileage reimbursement, for roundtrip airfare from your area to Medford. Our hope is that you will book travel to be able to attend the Orientation scheduled for 10:00 AM Sunday morning. When you arrive to the airport, please keep track of your taxi receipts as we will also reimburse you for that cost.Reports are coming in this morning of subs being flown in from Texas and New York, with return airfare for the upcoming 3 day weekend and then back to Oregon, should the strike continue beyond the weekend.
If no flights are available early Sunday, please book a flight for Saturday. We will take care of your hotel and cab fare if a shuttle is not available. We recommend booking a roundtrip, refundable ticket with return flight late Friday or Saturday. If the contract settles prior to your scheduled departure flight, Medford School district will pay your flight change fee.
Thank you so much for making yourself available to work in our district and for allowing us to create a safe travel situation for your arrival and departure.
What can you do? Get the story out. Have friends in Oregon? Get them Aware (it's Portland in a week, and Eugene in the months to come). If you are or know an educator who might be recruited? Encourage them to NOT accept a sub job in Oregon. Feel free to jump into the comment sections of the district facebook page (DON'T "like" them). Keep public comments CLEAN, on point, fact-based, and avoid (hard as it may be, set your 'snark' setting to OFF :))
Make our school board uncomfortable. Arm yourself with a couple good facts and then make some phone calls. Follow the NMHS link to get out to the District page. From there, call the Superintendent of Schools. The School Board members have additional public phone numbers (thanks to their election filing paper-work). I'll may post that info in comments.