Teachers threaten to strike
Ken Unterreiner, president of the Susanville Teachers Association, said the union was giving the board “one last chance” to settle the disagreement between the teachers and the school district over a cap on health benefits and salary increases. STA claims it is only seeking fair compensation for its members.
In a pre-strike vote, Unterreiner said more than 90 percent of the teachers voted to walk out of the classroom and go on strike.
According to a negotiations update from the SSD, a neutral mediator appointed by the Public Employment Relations Board certified “no agreement could be reached in mediation and the matter was submitted to factfinding.”
Factfinding is the term used for the process following mediation. A three-person panel will review information submitted by both sides and issue a set of non-binding recommendations for a settlement.
The three-person panel will be comprised of a representative from the SSD, a representative from the STA and a qualified labor relations professional from the state.
The factfinding hearing is not open to the public. A preliminary factfinding hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 7, 2008 in Sacramento.
Once the process, which could take several months, is complete, the panel is required to issue a report within 30 days.
According to the SSD negotiation update, talk about a teacher strike is premature.
“At this point it would be illegal for the union to engage in any concerted work stoppage prior to the factfinder’s final report being made public.”
Still, the SSD recognizes the teacher’s right to strike.
“A decision to strike would be reached only by a vote of the union’s membership,” according to the negotiations update. “If a tentative agreement is reached during the factfinding process, STA will present that to a general membership meeting of the union for ratification. If approved by the STA membership, it would then go to the school board for ratification at a public meeting.
“If the union does not approve the tentative agreement, the union may vote to hold a strike. The decision to strike requires only a simply majority of the membership. Such a vote does not allow members to vote for whether they want to accept the district’s last best offer or go on strike.”
The SSD noted the teachers’ existing contract, which expired on June 30, 2006, remains in effect until a new agreement is signed. Teachers continue to receive the usual step and column salary increases and continuing education credits.
Parents speak out
A number of parents spoke to the board expressing their concern about a possible strike and urged the trustees to sign an agreement with the teachers.
Several threatened to pull their children out of the district’s schools if the teachers went on strike, a move that would cost the SSD a portion of its apportionment funding which is based on average daily attendance of students.
“How am I going to tell my 5-year-old her teacher is on strike?” asked Sherry Williams.
Janet Porter encouraged the board to “invest in our teachers. You’ll never lose money on that investment.”
Tiffany Wedge said, “Teachers are heroes. Children are priceless. Treat them that way.”
Unterreiner made a presentation to the board and encouraged the trustees to consider two main points — the SSD’s budget is sound and healthy and factfinding really finds no facts.
He said the Lassen County Office of Education has certified the school district’s budget as positive, the district’s revenues and unrestricted reserves are both increasing and the health insurance premiums for STA members have not increased for the last two years.
According to Unterreiner, the SSD and the STA will present their perspectives during the factfinding process, but the recommendations are non-binding. Neither side has to accept or act upon the recommendations from the factfinding process.
At the conclusion of factfinding, the district may impose its “last, best and final offer” and “the STA may strike.”
“It’s not too late to settle,” Unterreiner said. “I would hope that we could agree that the factfinding process will disrupt the education of Susanville elementary students, the lives of teachers and the financial solvency of the district. The board should know by now what it would take to settle the negotiation with STA for 2006-2007. STA will consider any and all proposals from the district that maintain health benefits and help STA be compatible with salaries in other districts … STA does not want to strike but will if forced to do so to protect their health insurance and livelihood.”
According to Unterreiner, 60 of 66 teachers voted to authorize the STA executive board to call for a strike vote if no agreement is reached upon the completion of factfinding.
“The district is solvent, revenue is increasing, reserves are high and the money is there,” Unterreiner said. “Factfinding is advisory, consumes time and energy, provides for a strike and/or an imposed settlement and can be avoided. Is this where you want to go?”
STA restated its commitment to the students, the teachers and the community.
According to a handout distributed by STA at the meeting, the school district’s revenue was $9.2 million in 2002-2003, $8.6 million in 2003-2004, $9 million in 2004-2005, $9 million in 2005-2006, $10 million in 2006-2007 and $9.8 million in 2007-2008.
According to the handout, the SSD’s reserves above the state required reserves were $488,754 in 2002-2003, $885,994 in 2003-2004, $251,880 in 2004-2005, $301,607 in 2005-2006, $401,433 in 2006-2007 and $855,646 in 2007-2008.
STA maintains the school district could spend these unrestricted reserves above the state requirements on teachers and students.
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