District: Union on fast track to strike

The teachers’ union cares more about striking than trying to work things out, Chico Unified School District officials charged this week.

The Chico Unified Teachers Association’s executive board voted May 10 not to waive state-set timelines relating to the fact-finding stage of contract negotiations, a move CUSD leaders took as a strong message that the union has abandoned hopes for a settlement.

Superintendent Scott Brown said, “They want to get through fact finding so—and I’ve only heard this term since I came to Chico—they can be ‘strike-legal.'”

“In about 99.9 percent of the time, those timelines are waived because they’re unreasonable,” said Jim Sands, assistant superintendent for the CUSD. “It looks like they’re just trying to rush through the process and not make it a meaningful process.”

Fact finding, which is done by one person each chosen by the district and union plus a neutral panelist, now will take place all in one day: June 2. By then the CSUD must round up and do the math on figures from comparable districts and otherwise prepare for the session.

CUTA President Dan Sours agreed that the timelines are usually waived but countered that, “What we saw was stall, and when we saw stall we said forget about it; we won’t waive the timelines.

“We don’t want to keep delaying this,” he said, pointing out that the union would have been fine with the June 28-29 session suggested by the neutral third party, but the district couldn’t make it because key employees would be on vacation.

Sours added that while some teachers believe a strike is the only action to take, he thinks they’re naive about what the ramifications would be and wants to avoid striking. Still, the CUTA’s “Crisis Hotline” for May 9 asked that teachers “keep in mind” that “fact finding is just another step on the long legal road to a strike.”

He also said that CUSD officials’ idea that the union wants a strike to begin Aug. 6, when year-round classes start up again, makes no sense. “Why would we do it when only a third of our people are working?”

This is only the latest in the union-district battle that ended in a negotiations impasse, failed mediation and now fact finding—the same thing that happened two years ago before a strike was averted with a 6-percent raise.

Brown mused that the union raises expectations of its members with visions of double-digit raises and then no amount of money sounds good. The districts that gave teachers that much, he said, are now slashing their budgets.

Although the union previously agreed to a multi-year deal based on enrollment, many teachers felt slammed when an unexpected $6.6 million came from the state and the Board of Trustees voted to spend a portion of it to pay off debt and buy things.

The district now says that, amid declining enrollment, it needs every spare dollar to pay back the state for special-education services and other debt and rising energy costs.

Also, Sands said, “Even if we had that money [$6.6 million] it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy these demands.” He said if a 10-percent raise were to be approved, “in three years we would be $8 million in the hole.”

Meanwhile, Sands denied the union’s contention that the district had already begun seeking substitute teachers. "We haven’t yet but we’re going to have to now," he said.