Labor division

Chico teachers and their district hit a critical juncture in their contract negotiations

Not everything is rosy between the Chico Unified School District and its teachers. Contract negotiations with the Chico Unified Teachers Association continue, and even under a new superintendent relations remain strained.

“I think there is a long-term undercurrent of mistrust,” Superintendent Chet Francisco said.

CUTA boasts a membership of 780 teachers responsible for the education of 14,000 students.

“I think we all need to take a step back and think where our priorities are,” Francisco said. “And our priorities are our kids.”

The relationship is strained primarily by money. Teachers have not received a raise since July 2002, said CUTA president George Young; since that time, the cost of living in Chico has increased by 11 percent.

CUSD teachers used to be some of the highest paid in the region, Young said, but recently their pay was surpassed by teachers in Oroville.

The district and CUTA have undergone mediation in an effort to settle the dispute. But the mediation failed to produce any agreements, sending the district into the next stage, deemed “fact finding,” where both sides come up with more evidence to support their stances.

Because it is in the process of negotiations, CUTA is not ready to discuss any specific figures of the bargaining, Young said.

Still, the union is optimistic that with the 8 percent base revenue increase the district has gleaned from the state this fiscal year, the teachers may be successful in securing a raise.

Young said he believes that another important issue facing the district is how it will provide health care for teachers.

Chico, like the rest of California, is facing a future shortage of teachers, Young said. Without decent pay and health benefits, it seems nearly impossible to get people into the teaching profession, he said.

As for the current contract talks, both teachers and the district said the way their conflict gets resolved is significant.

“I think it would be better for all involved to do this in a healthy and respectful way,” Chico Junior High School teacher Jenn Flory said.

Noted Francisco: “It’s important to set an example for the kids.”