Settlement doesn’t salve sore feelings

School started. On time. With real teachers.

But these truths—bought with a last-minute settlement with Chico schoolteachers—will cost the Chico Unified School District dearly, if not in disputed dollars than in deeply held hard feelings.

“This was not a fair deal,” said Scott Schofield, president of the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees, feeling morally twisted the Monday after the Aug. 17 agreement was struck. “There’s a cost to this closure,” he said, and the price tag is $1 million over three years.

Schofield had previously said he’d never sign off on a deal that meant program cuts, but a board majority was in favor, plus there was the threat of a strike, and, “I felt like we had a gun to our heads and this money was extorted from us.”

The contract agreement provides another 3-percent bonus for 2000-01, 8.48 percent for 2001-02 and the state’s cost-of-living adjustment plus 1.5 percent for 2002-02—numbers very similar to what the Chico Unified Teachers Association had been asking for all along. CUTA executives ratified the tentative agreement on Aug. 20; teachers were set to vote Aug. 23. The CUSD board also must formally approve the new contract.

“We essentially got everything we asked for. We didn’t get it when we asked for it,” said CUTA President Dan Sours. “It’s frustrating, because there was nothing that we did the last three days that couldn’t have been done in December.”

The average teacher salary, Superintendent Scott Brown quickly figured at a Friday press conference, would rise from $44,000 to $52,000.

“We hope this becomes the basis for a productive relationship in the future,” Brown said. “I’m actually saddened by the impact on Chico Unified’s reputation that’s caused by this entire process.”

He admitted the district capitulated but said it had little choice. Schofield said he realized that the money that would have been lost, in lost payments from the state, if half the students were kept home by their parents for five days would equal that same $1 million.

Of the district’s 741 teachers, 89.3 percent voted to strike shortly before the tentative agreement was announced, Sours related. Schofield said those teachers likely did not have “the best interests of the kids at heart. They had their pocketbooks at heart.”

As for the district chapter of the California School Employees Assocation (CSEA), which settled months ago for a raise of about 6 percent, “We screwed them,” Schofield said bitterly. “What’s the incentive to bargain in good faith and in a meaningful way if the threat of strike gets you more results?

The CSEA last year participated in interest-based bargaining (IBB), in which each side lays its true desires on the table and works toward agreement. It’s the type of approach the district would like the CUTA to return to.

CSEA President Eileen Robinson said she doesn’t begrudge the teachers their deal. “We got what we felt was there without having to make cuts to finance something more,” she said. “The process worked.” She said workers such as secretaries, custodians and bus drivers are mainly feeling “real insecurity about cutting classified to pay for the certificated increase.” Robinson doubts the district will do that.

While Sours said the impacts of the cuts are being overstated by the district, Schofield predicted that slashing $1 million would mean layoffs, lost programs and maybe even closing a couple of elementary schools.

Schofield vowed: "When we do that, I’m going to point to the union and say, ‘Thanks, guys, this is how we’re paying for your last salary increase.'"