San Diego Teachers Union, District at Impasse Over Contract

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Contract negotiations between the San Diego Unified School District and the teachers union over the issues of salaries and class sizes have come to a halt. Now, the state’s Public Employment Relations Board will send a mediator to the conversations to assist.

Interventions may include a fact-finder who will make non-binding recommendations. When an impasse occurs it is often the first step toward a teachers strike, writes Maureen Magee of The San Diego Union-Tribune.

“We are stuck. We have our facts, they have their facts. There are discrepancies,” said Lindsay Burningham, who represents about 6,000 teachers as president of the San Diego Education Association. “Our goal is to is to reach a fair settlement as soon as possible. It’s in nobody’s interest to go on strike.”

The union has received agreement from the district on 13 of 15 topics, three of which are the union’s top issues in what the union is calling “Fight for Five” campaign. The sticking point is the amount of a pay raise teachers should receive and where to make reductions in class sizes. The union wants a 7.5% pay raise over two years and smaller class sizes in every grade level. The San Diego Unified School District proposes a 1% bonus for this year and a 2% raise next year and smaller classes in grades K-3.

A 1% pay increase for teachers, nurses, counselors, and librarians who are union members would cost San Diego Unified $5.3 million based on the Education Association estimates. Superintendent Cindy Marten says the negotiations have been collegial and productive.

“We have mutually decided to declare impasse for the purpose of reaching an agreement. We want the facts to decide our fiscal reality, not the opinions of each side,” Marten said. “Bringing in a third-party mediator is the logical next step to an agreement, not the logical next step to a strike.”

The Fight for Five campaign includes a list of demands: hiring more nurses and counselors; added support for special-education students; a freeze on health insurance costs for two years; raises; and a decrease in class sizes on every grade level. Following California’s fiscal crisis, the district remains in recovery mode. Burningham said:

“The district underestimates its revenue and overestimates its expenditures, so it makes it look like they have less money than they do.” 

Marten said the district already has plans in place to decrease class sizes at some schools for the coming year, but there simply is not enough money to do this in all schools, reports Matt Rascon for KNSD-TV. After almost a year of bargaining for a new contract, it will probably take another few months before a third party mediator is assigned to the negotiations. Meanwhile, the district and the teachers union can continue their bargaining.

Marten shared in a statement how the negotiations had wrapped up:

“…reached tentative agreements on nearly all issues including adding more counselors, nurses and special education support; increasing time for teacher preparation; maintaining benefits; and supporting consistent Visiting Teacher coverage. There are still a few areas where we have been unable to reach agreement.”

Officials with the San Diego Education Association said negotiations had progressed after more than 50 school rallies across the district were held, writes the Associated Press, yet an agreement remains elusive.