CUTA: Bring in the mediator

A mediator may be needed to bridge the divide between the Chico Unified School District and its teachers’ union.

But union leaders said they don’t expect a replay of the contentious negotiations that led to a strike vote five years ago, even though there’s been no “movement” from the CUSD in months.

The Chico Unified Teachers Association says negotiations have stalled on a contract for 2005-06, which would cover teachers through 2008. A mediator, agreed upon by both parties, could smooth things over, said CUTA President George Young.

Bob Feaster, the CUSD’s assistant superintendent in charge of human resources, said talks have been respectful and constructive and in fact, “We were surprised that they declared impasse.”

“But if [a mediator] is something that gets us closer to a resolution, we’re all for it,” he said.

While pay is one of the three main issues CUTA says the CUSD isn’t bending on, it’s not all about money, Young said.

The CUTA is concerned about how the CUSD reassigns teachers, an issue that came to a head with the closure of two elementary schools last year. “The district needs to be more proactive with some of the issues like school closures and how we handle transfers,” said James Williams, a Bidwell Junior High School teacher who chairs the CUTA’s bargaining team. He said criteria should be established and used in deciding whom to transfer, and the district should explain its reasons for moving individual teachers.

The union also contends that the CUSD waited too long to address state requirements involving program improvement schools, and rather than create a broad educational plan to raise student achievement, it simply shuffled management.

On the money front, while many teachers do get raises some years due to scheduled “steps and columns” increases, the CUSD has not been passing along the cost of living adjustment (COLA) from the state that would ensure increases for everyone. “I know they’re facing declining enrollment,” Young said, but the CUSD has been seen a 10 percent increase in ongoing revenues in both 2004-05 and 2005-06.

“Most districts in this region have passed that along to teachers,” Williams said.

At the same time, Williams said, teachers have taken two blows to their health insurance packages in the past four years and now have both copayments and deductibles.

Feaster said a lot of what the district can do for teachers hinges on the governor’s budget proposed this week, since the deal should cover multiple years. The 0-percent offer, he said, “was not a take-it-or-leave-it.”

Williams said that if district leaders and their negotiations attorney agree to discuss the aforementioned concerns, the CUTA will drop the mediator idea.

“We would rather work with them,” Williams said. “Calling in a mediator is not necessarily a good sign.”