Time to start talking

The school district and the teachers union need to work together

There are hopeful new developments in the ongoing conflict between the Chico Unified School District and its teachers union, the Chico Unified Teachers Association, that suggest the two groups finally may be able to sit down at a table and start talking about how to solve the district’s daunting financial problems.

For one thing, the state Public Employment Relations Board has declared them officially at impasse in negotiations, which have been stalled since last March, and ordered them into mediation. Second, as we were informed Tuesday, the union intends to present its “sunshine,” or opening, bargaining position to the district this week, in time to get it on the Feb. 17 agenda of the district’s Board of Trustees.

There are tender feelings on both sides. District officials believe the union has dragged its feet, either failing to understand or refusing to acknowledge the dire nature of the fiscal crisis. The CUSD is looking at a nearly $10 million structural deficit and a cash-flow problem that could make it unable to pay its bills sometime in the near future. That would force it to take out a loan from the state, and in return the state would take over operation of the district.

The union is smarting because it believes the district violated an agreed-upon process by releasing its sunshine proposal publicly, in Superintendent Kelly Staley’s weekly newsletter, before the union had submitted its opening offer. It’s a legitimate complaint: For a union, the negotiating process is its greatest protection. It has no choice but to defend that process as fiercely as possible.

That said, we ask both parties to set aside their grievances for the sake of the community and the schools and to start talking with each other as soon as possible. Be grownups: Apologize to each other and get on with it. We know you both want what is best for students.

Time is of the essence here. The longer the problems are put off, the worse they will get. The mediator is available Feb. 25. That’s not too soon to start talking.