Facts, schmacts: Union blasts CUSD-leaning report

No sooner had the “fact-finding” report on the contract dispute between the Chico Unified School District and its teachers’ union been released than the verbal volleys began.

CUSD leaders are claiming victory, and the Chico Unified Teachers Association is calling the panel’s report a “useless” document.

The union was first to act, releasing the report on July 12. Now that it’s out, the district can impose its best offer, not counting strides made in mediation, and teachers can take it or strike. (The offer was around a 4.5 percent raise.) The CUTA may ask its members to vote at a meeting scheduled for Aug. 17.

“This report doesn’t solve the problem where we’re at. We need to get to the table and work out our differences,” said Mark Leach, bargaining chairman for the CUTA, at a press conference. Another bargaining session is set for Aug. 6.

The report essentially stated that for 2001-02 the CUSD should offer “no less than” (the union clung to the “no less than") the 3.87 cost-of-living adjustment and continue to bargain. The report also recommended a one-time bonus of 2 percent for 2000-01. “The report is thoroughly consistent with the district’s position,” said Greg Einhorn, the CUSD’s attorney. He was “disheartened” that the CUTA “blithely dismissed” the report.

Philip Tamoush was the independent member of the three-person panel who issued the report. He refused to comment to the News & Review, citing a professional code of conduct for arbitrators.

The union had proposed a 10.29 percent raise—what its members figured the district could afford in light of the more than $6 million in new, unexpected money handed down by the state. “We’re looking at our fair share of continuing money,” Leach said. “If you look at their budget documents, they’ve got plenty of money to do what we’re asking them to do.”

But in their own meetings with media representatives, CUSD officials said the union is overlooking one key point: Any money added to the salary schedule would continue and be compounded each year.

Even if it gave teachers a 7-percent raise, the district would be in debt $11 million by 2003-04, Deputy Superintendent Jim Sands said, figuring furiously on a dry-erase board. “How could anybody take the numbers than we’re looking at and come up with a different conclusion? … It’s almost mythical.”

When the CUSD presented its side to the panel, it used less-measured tones, calling the union’s proposals “reckless” and its rush to declare impasse a “complete sham.”

The district has cut $4 million in the last two years, said CUSD Board of Trustees President Scott Schofield, and the board has already told the district’s negotiating team, “Don’t bring us a deal that is going to require us to cut the budget to pay salary increases.”

Schofield said, "I see this whole process just sucking the air out of everybody. We’ve got to find a way to do it better than we’ve been doing."